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First Edition 1882 
Reprinted 1883, 1888, 1893 

A 5 


The writings of Charles Lamb abound in biographical 
matter. To them, and to the well-known volumes of the 
late Mr. Justice Talfourd, I am mainly indebted for the 
material of which this memoir is composed. 

1 have added a complete list of the chief works from 
which information about Lamb and his sister has been 
obtained. I have also had the advantage of communica- 
tion with those who were personally acquainted with 
Lamb and have received from others valuable assistance 
in exploring less known sources of information 

Among those to whom my acknowledgments for much 
kindness are due, I would mention Mrs. Arthur Tween, a 
daughter of that old and loyal friend of the Lamb family, 
Mr. Eandal Norris ; Mr. James Crossley, of Manchester ; 
Mr. Edward FitzGerald ; Mr. W. Aldis Wright ; and last, 
not least, my friend Mr. J. E. Davis, of the Middle 
Temple, whose kind interest in this little book has been 

A. A. 


December, 1881. 


1. The Essays of Elia, and other writings, in prose and 

verse, of Charles Lamb. 

2. Letters of Charles Lamb, with a Sketch of his Life by 

Thomas Noon Talfourd 1337 

3. Final Memorials of Charles Lamb, &c., by Thomas 

Noon Talfourd 1848 

4. Charles Lamb : A Memoir, by Barry Cornwall . 1866 

5. Charles and Mary Lamb : Poems, Letters, and Eemains, 

by W. Carew Hazlitt . 1874 

6. Gillman's Life of Coleridge, vol. i 1838 

7. Cottle's Early Eecollections of Coleridge . . - 1837 

8. Alsop's Letters, Conversations, and Eecollections of 

Coleridge 1836 

9. My Friends and Acquaintance, by P. G. Patmore 1854 

10. Autobiography of Leigh Hunt 1850 

11. Memoirs of William Hazlitt, by W. Carew Hazlitt . 1867 

12. Literary Eeminiscences, by Thomas Hood (in Hood's 

Oum) 1839 

13. Haydon's Autobiography and Journals . . . 1853 

14. Diary of Henry Crabb Eobinson 1869 

15. Memoir of Charles Mathews (the elder), by Mrs. 

Mathews 1838 

16. Life and Correspondence of Eobert Southey . . 1849 

17. Obituary Notices, Eeminiscences, Essays, &c, in 
various magazines and reviews. 




Boyhood — The Temple and Christ's Hos- 
pital 1775—1789 . 1 


Family Struggles and Sorrows . . . 1789 — 1796 . 17 

First Experiments in Literature . . 1796 — 1800 . 34 


Dramatic Authorship and Dramatic Criticism 1800—1809 . 50 


Inner Temple Lane — Personal Characteris- 
tics 1809—1817 . 74 


Russell Street, Covent Garden — The Essays 

of Eli a 1817—1823 . 96 





colebrook row, islington— the controversy 
with southey, and retirement from the 
India House 1823—1826 . 125 

Enfield and Edmonton .... 1826—1834 . 150 


Lamb's Place as a Critic . ..... 172 






" I was born and passed the first seven years of my life 
in the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its 
fountain, its river, I had almost said — for in those young 
years what was this king of rivers to me hut a stream 
that watered our pleasant places'? — these are of my oldest 
recollections." In this manner does Charles Lamb, in an 
essay that is one of the masterpieces of English prose, 
open for us those passages of autobiography which happily 
abound in his writings. The words do more than fix 
places and dates. They strike the key in which his early 
life was set — and the later life, hardly less. The genius 
of Lamb was surely guided into its special channel by the 
chance that the first fourteen years of his life were passed, 
as has been said, "between cloister and cloister," between 
the mediaeval atmosphere of the quiet Temple and that of 
the busy school of Edward VI. 

Charles Lamb was born on the 10th of February, 1775 
in Crown Ollice Row in the Temple, tho line of buildings 





facing the garden and the river he has so lovingly com- 
memorated. His father, John Lamb, who had come up 
a country boy from Lincolnshire to seek his fortune in 
the great city, was clerk and servant to Mr. Samuel Salt, 
a Bencher of the Inner Temple. He had married Eliza- 
beth Field, whose mother was for more than fifty years 
housekeeper at the old mansion of the Plumers, Blakes- 
ware in Hertfordshire, .the Blakesmoor of the Essays 
of Mia. The issue of this marriage was a family of 
seven children, only three of whom seem to have survived 
their early childhood. The registers of the Temple 
Church record the baptisms of all the seven children, 
ranging from the year 1762 to 1775. Of the three who 
lived, Charles was the youngest. The other two were his 
brother John, who was twelve years, and his sister Mary 
Anne (better known to us as Mary), who was ten years 
his senior. The marked difference in age between Charles 
and his brother and sister, must never be overlooked in 
the estimate of the difficulties, and of the heroism, of his 
later life. 

In the essay already cited — that on the Old Benchers 
of the Inner Temple —Charles has drawn for us a touching 
portrait of his father, the barristers clerk, under the name 
of Lovel. After speaking of Samuel Salt, the Bencher, 
and certain indolent and careless ways from which he 
" might have suffered severely if he had not had honest 
people about him," he digresses characteristically into a 
description of the faithful servant who was at hand to 
protect him : — 

Lovel took care of everything. He was at once his clerk, his 
good servant, his dresser, his friend, his " flapper/' his guide, stop- 
watch, auditor, treasurer. He did nothing Avithout consulting 
Lovel, or failed in anything without expecting and fearing his 



admonishing. He put himself almost too much in his hands, 
had they not been the purest in the world. He resigned his 
title almost to respect as a master, if Lovel could ever have 
forgotten for a moment that he was a servant. 

I knew this Lovel. He was a man of an incorrigible and 
losing honesty. A good fellow withal, and " would strike." In 
the cause of the oppressed he never considered inequalities, or 
calculated the number of his opponents. He once wrested a 
sword out of the hand of a man of quality that had drawn 
upon him, and pommelled him severely with the hilt of it. The 
swordsman had offered insult to a female — an occasion upon 
which no odds against him could have prevented the interference 
of Lovel. He would stand next day bare-headed to the same 
person, modestly to excuse his interference, for Lovel never for- 
got rank, where something better was not concerned. Lovel 
was the liveliest little fellow breathing ; had a face as gay as 
Garrick's, whom he was said greatly to resemble (I have a por- 
trait of him which confirms it) ; possessed a fine turn for 
humorous poetry — next to Swift and Prior; moulded heads in 
clay or plaster of Paris to admiration, by the dint of natural 
genius merely; turned cribbage-boards, and such small cabinet 
toys, to perfection ; took a hand at quadrille or bowls with equal 
facility; made punch better than any man of his degree in 
England ; had the merriest quips and conceits, and was alto- 
gether as brimful of rogueries and inventions as you could 
desire. He was a brother of the angle, moreover, and just such 
a free, hearty, honest companion as Mr. Izaak Walton would 
have chosen to go a-fishing with. 

I saw him in his old age, and the decay of his faculties, palsy- 
smitten, in the last sad stage of human weakness — " a remnant 
most forlorn of what he was " — yet even then his eye would 
light up upon the mention of his favourite Garrick. He was 
greatest, he would say, in Bayes — " was upon the stage nearly 
throughout the whole performance, and as busy as a bee." At 
intervals, too, he would speak of his former life, and how he 
came up a little boy from Lincoln to go to service, and how his 
mother cried at parting with him. and how he returned alter 




some few years' absence in his smart new livery, to see her, and 
she blessed herself at the change and could hardly be brought to 
believe that it was " her own bairn." And then, the excitement 
subsiding, he would weep, till I have wished that sad second- 
childhood might have a mother still to lay its head upon her 
lap. But the common mother of us all in no long time after 
received him gently into hers. 

I have digressed, in my turn, from the story of Charles 
Lamb's own life, but it is not without interest to learn 
from whom Charles inherited, not only something of his 
versatility of gift, but his chivalry and tenderness. 

The household in Crown Office Eow were from the 
beginning poor — of that we may feel certain. An aunt 
of Charles, his father's sister, formed one of the family, 
and contributed something to the common income, but 
John Lamb the elder was the only other bread-winner. 
And a barrister's clerk with seven children born to him 
in a dozen years, even if lodging were found him, could 
not have had much either to save or to spend. Before 
seven years of age Charles got the rudiments of education 
from a Mr. William Bird, whose schoolroom looked " into 
a discoloured dingy garden in the passage leading from 
Fetter Lane into Bartlett's Buildings." We owe this, 
and some other curious information about the academy, to 
a letter of Lamb's addressed in 1826 to Hone, the editor 
of the Every Day Book. In that periodical had appeared 
an account of a certain Captain Starkey, who was for 
some time an assistant of Bird's. The mention of his old 
teacher's name in this connexion called up in Lamb 
many recollections of his earliest school-days, and pro- 
duced the letter just named, full of characteristic matter. 
The school, out of Tetter Lane, was a day-school for boys, 
and an evening school for girls, and Charles and Mary had 



the advantages, whatever they may have been, of its in- 
struction. Stark ey had spoken of Bird as " an eminent 
writer, and teacher of languages and mathematics," &c. ; 
upon which Lamb's comment is, " Heaven knows what 
languages were taught in it then ! I am sure that neither 
my sister nor myself brought any out of it but a little of 
our native English." Then follow some graphic descrip- 
tions of the birch and the ferule, as wielded by Mr. Bird, 
and other incidents of school-life : — 

Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those uncom- 
fortable sloping desks, where we sat elbowing each other ; and the 
injunctions to attain a free hand, unattainable in that position ; 
the first copy I wrote after, with its moral lesson, "Art improves 
nature ; " the still earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some 
traces of which I fear may yet be apparent in this manuscript. 

When Charles had absorbed such elementary learning 
as was to be acquired under Mr. Bird and his assistants, 
his father might have been much perplexed where to find 
an education for his younger son, within his slender 
means, and yet satisfying his natural ambition, had not a 
governor of Christ's Hospital, of the name of Yeates, pro- 
bably a friend of Samuel Salt, offered him a presentation to 
that admirable charity. And on the 9th of October, 1782, 
Charles Lamb, then in his eighth year, entered the institu- 
tion, and remained there for the next seven years. 

There is scarcely any portion of his life about wL/cfi 
Lamb has not himself taken his readers into his confidence, 
and in his essay on Witches and other Night-fears he 
has referred to his own sensitive and superstitious child- 
hood, made more sensitive by the books, meat too strong 
for childish digestion, to which he had free access in his 
father's collection. " I was dreadfully alive to nervous 




terrors. The night-time solitude and the dark were my 
hell. The sufferings I endured in this nature would 
justify the expression. I never laid my head on my 
pillow, I suppose, from the fourth to the seventh or eighth 
year of my life — so far as memory serves in things so long 
ago — without an assurance, which realized its own pro- 
phecy, of seeing some frightful spectre." Lamb was fond 
both of exaggeration and of mystification, as we shall see 
further on, but this account of his childhood is not incon- 
sistent with descriptions of it from other sources. There 
was a strain of mental excitability in all the family, and 
in the case of Charles the nervousness of childhood was 
increased by the impediment in his speech which remained 
with him for life, and made so curious a part of his unique 
personality. " He was an amiable, gentle boy," wrote 
one who had been at school with him, " very sensible and 
keenly observing, indulged by his school-fellows and by 
his master on account of his infirmity of speech. I never 
heard his name mentioned," adds this same school-fellow, 
Charles Valentine Le Grice, " without the addition of 
Charles, although, as there was no other boy of the name 
of Lamb, the addition was unnecessary ; but there was an 
implied kindness in it, and it was a proof that his gentle 
manners excited that kindness." Let us note here that 
this term " gentle " (the special epithet of Shakspeare) 
seems to have occurred naturally to all Lamb's friends, as 
that which best described him. Coleridge, "Wordsworth, 
Landor, and Cary, recall no trait more tenderly than this. 
And let us note also that the addition of his Christian 
name (Lamb loved the use of it: "So Christians," he 
said, " should call one another ") followed him through 
life and beyond it. There is perhaps no other English 
writer who is so seldom mentioned by his surname alone. 


Of Lamb's experience of school-life we are fortunate in 
having a full description in his essay, entitled Recollections 
of Christ's Hospital, published in 1818, and the sequel to 
it, called Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty years ago (one 
of the Elia essays), published two years later. But it 
requires some familiarity with Lamb's love of masquerading, 
already referred to, to disengage fact from fancy, and 
extract what refers to himself only, in these two papers. 
The former is, what it purports to be, a serious tribute of 
praise to the dignified and elevating character of the great 
Charity by which he had been fostered. It speaks chiefly 
of the young scholar's pride in the antiquity of the 
foundation and the monastic customs and ritual which 
had survived into modern times ; of the Founder, " that 
godly and royal child, King Edward VI., the flower of 
the Tudor name — the young flower that was untimely 
cropped, as it began to fill our land with its early odours — 
the boy-patron of boys — the serious and holy child who 
walked with Cranmer and Ridley," with many touching 
reminiscences of the happy days spent in country excur- 
sions or visits to the sights of London. But in calling up 
these recollections it seems to have struck Lamb that his 
old school, like other institutions, had more than one side, 
and that the grievances of schoolboys, real and imaginary, 
as well as the humorous side of some of the regulations 
and traditions of the school, might supply material for 
another picture not less interesting. Accordingly, under 
the disguise of the signature Elia, he wrote a second 
account of his school, purporting to be a corrective of the 
over-colouring employed by "Mr. Lamb "in the former 
account. The writer affects to be a second witness called 
in to supplement the evidence of tho first. " I remember 
L. at school," writes Lamb, under tho signature of Elia. 




" It happens very oddly that my own standing at Christ's 
was nearly corresponding to his j and with all gratitude 
to him for his enthusiasm for the cloisters, I think he has 
contrived to bring together whatever can be said in praise 
of them, dropping all the other side of the argument most 
ingeniously." This other side Lamb proceeds, with charm- 
ing humour, to set forth, and he does so in the character 
of one, a " poor friendless boy," whose parents were far 
away at " sweet Calne, in Wiltshire," after which his heart 
was ever yearning. The friendless boy whose personality 
is thus assumed, was young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who 
had entered the school the same year as Lamb, though 
three years his senior. Coleridge and Lamb were school- 
fellows for the whole seven years of the latter's residence, 
and from this early association arose a friendship as 
memorable as any in English Literature. " Sweet Calne, 
in Wiltshire," was thus one of Lamb's innocent mystifica- 
tions. It was to the old home at " sweet Ottery St. Mary," 
in Devonshire, that young Samuel Taylor's thoughts 
turned, when he took his lonely country rambles, or 
shivered at the cold windows of the print-shops to while 
away a winter's holiday. 

In the character of Coleridge — though even here the 
dramatic position is not strictly sustained — Lamb goes on 
to relate, in the third person, many incidents of his own 
boyish life, which differed of necessity from his friend's. 
Charles Lamb was nol; troubled how to get through a 
winter's day, for he had shelter and friendly faces within 
easy reach of the school. " He had the privilege of going 
to see them, almost as often as he wished, through some 
invidious distinction which was denied to us. The pre- 
sent worthy sub-treasurer to the Inner Temple can ex- 
plain how that happened. He had his tea and hot rolls 


in the morning, while we were battening upon our quarter 
of a penny-loaf moistened with attenuated small-beer, in 
wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern jack it 
was poured from." And the writer proceeds to draw a 
charming picture of some emissary from 'Lamb's home, 
his " maid or aunt," bringing him some home-cooked 
dainty, and squatting down on "some odd stone in a by- 
nook of the cloisters," while he partook of it. It suggests 
a pleasant and happy side to this portion of Charles 
Lamb's life. Humble as his home was, still home was 
near, and not unmindful of him ; and even taking into 
account the severities of the discipline and other of the 
schoolboy's natural grievances, it would seem as if Lamb's 
school-years had a genial influence on his mind and 

As to the education, in the common acceptation of the 
word, which he gained during those seven years at Christ's 
Hospital, we may form a very just notion. When he 
left the school, in his fifteenth year, in November, 1789, 
he was (according to his own statement made in more 
than one passage of his writings) deputy Grecian. Leigh 
Hunt, who entered the school two years after Lamb 
quitted it, and knew him intimately in later life, says 
the same thing. Talfourd seems to have applied to the 
school authorities for precise information, and gives a some- 
what different account. He says that " in the language 
of the school " he was " in Greek form, but not deputy 
Grecian." No such distinction is understood by " Blues" 
of a later date, but it may possibly mean that Lamb was 
doing deputy Grecians' work, though he was in some way 
technically disqualified from taking rank with them. 
"Ho had read," Talfourd goes on to tell lis, "Virgil, 
Sallust, Terence, Lucian, and Xenophon, and had evinced 




considerable skill in the niceties of Latin composition." 
Latin, not Greek, was certainly his strong point, and with 
Terence especially he shows a familiar acquaintance. He 
wrote colloquial Latin with great readiness, and in turning 
nursery rhymes into that language, as well as in one or 
two more serious attempts, there are proofs of an ease of 
expression very creditable to the scholarship of a boy of 
fourteen. And if (as appears certain) Lamb, though not 
in the highest form at Christ's Hospital, had the benefit 
of the teaching of the head-master, the Kev. James Boyer, 
we have good reason for knowing that, pedant and tyrant 
though Boyer may have been, he was no bad trainer for 
such endowments as Coleridge's and Lamb's. 

Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, has drawn a 
companion picture of the better side of Christ's Hospital 
discipline, which may judiciously be compared with 
Lamb's. " At school I enjoyed the inestimable advantage 
of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe 
master. He early moulded my taste to the preference of 
Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to 
Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me 
to compare Lucretius (in such extracts as T then read), 
Terence, and above all, the chaster poems of Catullus, not 
only with the Koman poets of the so-called silver and 
brazen ages, but with even those of the Augustan era ; 
and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, to see 
and assert the superiority of the former, in the truth and 
nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the 
same time that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, 
he made us read Shakespeare and Milton as lessons ; and 
they were the lessons, too, which required most time and 
trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learnt 
from him that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and seem- 


ingly that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own as 
severe as that of science, and more difficult, because more 
subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more 
fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say, 
there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but 
for the position of every word ; and I well remember that, 
availing himself of the synonym es to the Homer of Didy- 
mus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, 
why it would not have answered the same purpose, 
and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in 
the original text." Such a teacher, according to Coleridge, 
was the guiding spirit of Christ's Hospital; and even 
allowing for Coleridge having in later life looked back 
with magnifying eyes upon those early lessons, and read 
into Boyer's teaching something that belonged rather to 
the learner than the teacher, we need not doubt how 
great were the young student's obligations to his master. 
Lamb, who was three years younger, and never reached 
the same position in the school, may not have benefited 
directly by this method of Boyer's, but he was the 
intimate companion of the elder schoolboy, and whatever 
Boyer taught we may be sure was handed on in some 
form or other to Lamb, tinged though it may have been 
by the wondrous individuality of his friend. 

For the influence of Coleridge over Lamb, during these 
school-days and afterwards, is one of the most important 
elements a biographer of Lamb has to take account of. 
The boy, Samuel Taylor, had entered the school, as we 
have seen, in the same year, lie was a lonely, dreamy 
lad, not living wholly apart from the pastimes of his 
companions, wandering with them into the country, and 
bathing in the New River, on the holidays of summer, 
but taking his pleasure on the whole sadly, loving above 




all things knowledge, and greedily devouring whatever 
of that kind came in his way. Middleton, afterwards 
Bishop of Calcutta, at the time a Grecian in the school, 
found him one day reading Virgil in his play-hour, for his 
own amusement, and reported the circumstance to Boyer, 
who acted upon it by fostering henceforth in every way 
his pupil's talent. A stranger who met the boy one day 
in the London streets, lost in some day-dream, and moving 
his arms as one who "spreadeth forth his hands to swim," 
extracted from him the confession that he was only think- 
ing of Leander and the Hellespont. The stranger, im- 
pressed with the boy's love of books, subscribed for him 
to a library in the neighbourhood of the school, and 
young Coleridge proceeded, as he has told us, to read 
" through the catalogue, folios and all, whether I under- 
stood them or did not understand them, running all risks 
in skulking out to get the two volumes which I was en- 
titled to have daily." With a full consciousness, as is 
apparent, of his power, he seems at this age to have had 
no desire for distinction, but only for enlarged experience. 
At one time he wanted to be apprenticed to a shoemaker, 
whose wife had shown him some kindness. At a later 
time, encouraged by the example of his elder brother who 
had come up to walk the London Hospital, he conceived 
a passion for the medical profession and read every book 
on doctoring he could lay his hands on. He went 
through a phase of atheism — again, probably, out of sheer 
curiosity — until he was judiciously (so he said) flogged 
out of it by Boyer. And meantime he was reading 
metaphysics, and writing verses, in the true spirit of the 
future Coleridge. The lines he composed in his sixteenth 
year, suggested by his habit of living in the future till 
time present and future became in thought inextricably 


intermingled, surely entitle him to the name of the 
" marvellous boy," as truly as anything Chatterton had 
written at the same age : — 

On the wide level of a mountain's head 
(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place) 
Their pinions, ostrich- like, for sails outspread, 
Two lovely children run an endless race, 

A sister and a brother ! 

That far outstripp'd the other ; 
Yet ever runs she with reverted face, 
And looks and listens for the boy behind ; 

For he, alas ! is blind ! 
O'er rough and smooth with even step he pass'd, 
And knows not whether he be first or last. 

A striking feature of these lines is not so much that they 
are not the echo of any one school of poetry, but that in 
the special metaphysic of the thought, and the peculiar 
witchery of the verse, Coleridge here anticipated his 
maturest powers. It is on first thoughts strange that the 
boy who had read through whole libraries, " folios and 
all," and who could write verses such as these, should have 
been so deeply stirred as we know him to have been at 
the age of seventeen, when the small volume of fourteen 
sonnets of William Lisle Bowles fell into his hands. 
What was there, it might we2l be asked, in the poetry of 
Bowles, pathetic and graceful as it was, so to quicken the 
poetic impulse of Coleridge, that years afterwards he wrote 
of it to a friend as having " done his heart more good 
than all the other books he ever read, excepting his Bible." 
It is the fashion in the present day to speak slightingly 
of Bowles, but his sonnets have unquestionable merit. 
Their language is melodious to a degree which perhaps 
only Collins in that century had surpassed, and it ex- 
pressed a tender melancholy, which may have been 




inspired also by the study of the same poet. But Coleridge, 
the omnivorous reader, can hardly have been unacquainted 
with Gray and Collins, and the writer of such lines as — 

On the wide level of a mountain's head 

(I knew not where, but 'twas some fairy place), 

could have had little to learn, as to the subtler music of 
versification, even from the greatest models. But it is 
significant that Coleridge couples these sonnets with the 
Bible, and he could hardly have done so without meaning 
it to be understood that Bowles' sonnets marked some 
change not purely artistic in his mind's growth. For 
the melancholy of Gray was constitutional, but the 
sadness of Bowles had its root in a close habit of in- 
trospection, and dwelling upon the moral side of things. 
The pensive beauty of such a sonnet as the well-known 
one on the Influence of Time on Grief wakes chords that 
are not often reached by the sentiment of the elder poets. 
There can be little doubt that at a critical point of 
Coleridge's life his moral nature was touched in ways for 
which he was profoundly grateful by these few poems of 
Bowles. He admits the obligation, indeed, in the first 
version of his sonnet to Bowles, when he confesses that 
"those soft strains" waked in him "love and sympathy" 
as well as fancy, and made him henceforth " not callous 
to a brother's pains." And we are justified in believing 
that his young companion, Charles Lamb, was passing 
with him along the same path of deepening thoughtf ulness. 
He, too, had felt the charm of Bowles' tenderness. In 
his earliest letters to Coleridge no other name is men- 
tioned oftener and with more admiration ; and writing 
to his friend a few years later, from the " drudgery of the 
desk's dead wood " at the India House, Lamb complains 


sorrowfully, 1 'Not a soul loves Bowles here: scarce one 
has heard of Burns : few but laugh at me for reading my 

It was in the year 1789, the year of the publication of 
Bowles' earliest sonnets, that Charles Lamb was removed 
from Christ's Hospital, and the companionship of the two 
friends was for a while interrupted. Lamb had found 
other congenial associates among the Blue Coats, and has 
embalmed their names in various ways in his essays ; the 
two Le Grices from Cornwall, and James White, whose 
passion was for Shakespeare, and who afterwards compiled 
a collection of letters, as between Falstaff and his friends, 
in which he displayed some fancy, but chiefly a certain 
skill in taking to pieces the phraseology of the humorous 
characters in the historical plays and re-setting it in 
divers combinations. It was by these and other like 
accidents that the tastes and powers of the young Charles 
Lamb were being drawn forth in those seven years of 
school-life. The Latin and Greek of the Eev. Matthew 
Field, the under grammar-master, even the more advanced 
instruction under James Boyer, had a less important 
bearing on the future Elia than the picturesque surround- 
ings of the Temple, alternating with those of the founda- 
tion of Edward YL, and above all, the daily companion- 
ship of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

Leigh Hunt, in his autobiography, has described with 
great humour and spirit the Christ's Hospital of his day, 
only two or three years later. Hunt left school at the age 
of lifteen, when he had attained the same rank as Lamb — 
deputy Grecian — and, as he tells us, for the same reason. 
He, too, had an impediment in his speech. " I did not 
stammer half so badly as I used, but it was understood that 
a Grecian was bound to deliver a public speech before ho 



[ch. r. 

left school, and to go into the Church afterwards ; and as 
I could do neither of these things, a Grecian I could not 
be." During his seven years in the school, Hunt often 
saw Charles Lamb, when he came to visit his old school- 
fellows, and recalled in after-life the " pensive, brown, 
handsome, and kindly face," and "the gait advancing with 
a motion from side to side, between involuntary uncon- 
sciousness and attempted ease." He dressed even then, 
Leigh Hunt adds, with that " Quaker-like'plainness " that 
distinguished him all through life. 

To leave school must have been to Charles Lamb a 
bitter sorrow. His aptitude for the special studies 
of the school was undeniable, and to part from Coleridge 
must have been a still heavier blow. His biographers 
have followed Leigh Hunt in pointing out that the school 
exhibitions to the universities were given on the implied 
condition of the winners of them proceeding to holy orders, 
and that in Lamb's case his infirmity of speech made that 
impossible. But there were probably other reasons, not 
less cogent. It must have been of importance to his 
family that Charles should, with as little delay as possible, 
begin to earn his bread. There was poverty in his home, 
and the prospect of means becoming yet more straitened. 
There were deepening anxieties of still graver cast, as we 
shall see hereafter. The youngest child of the family 
returned to share this poverty and these anxieties, and to 
learn thus early the meaning of that law of sacrifice to 
which he so cheerfully submitted for the remainder of his 




In two of Lamb's Essays of Elia, My Relations, and 
Mackery End in Hertfordshire, he has described various 
members of his own family, and among them his 
brother John and his sister Mary. These should be 
carefully read, in conjunction with the less studied 
utterances on the same theme in his letters, by those who 
would understand the conditions of that home of which 
he now became an inmate. Of the family of seven chil- 
dren born in the Temple to John and Elizabeth Lamb, 
only three survived, the two just mentioned, and Charles. 
The elder brother, John, at the time of his brother's 
leaving school a young man of twenty-six, held an ap- 
pointment in the South Sea House. There was a Plumer 
in the office, mentioned by Lamb in his essay on that 
institution, and it was with the Plumer family in Hert- 
fordshire that Lamb's grandmother had been house- 
keeper. It was probably to such an introduction that 
John Lamb owed his original clerkship in tho office, and 
it is evident that at the time ho first comes undei our 
notice, his position in the office was fairly lucrative, and 
that the young man, unmarried, and of pleasant artistic 
tastes, was living by himself, enjoying life, and not 





troubling himself too much about his poor relations in the 
Temple. The genial selfishness of his character is 
described with curious frankness by Charles, who yet 
seemed to entertain a kind of admiration for the well- 
dressed dilettante who cast in this way a kind of reflected 
light of respectability upon his humble relatives. He 
even addresses a sonnet to his brother, and applauds him 
for keeping "the elder brother up in state." There is a 
touch of sarcasm here, perhaps ; and there is a sadder 
vein of irony in the description in My Relations : — 

It does me good as I walk towards the street of my daily avoca- 
tion on some fine May morning, to meet him marching in a quite 
opposite direction, with a jolly handsome presence, and shining 
sanguine face that indicates some purchase in his eye — a Claude 
or a Hobbima — for much of his enviable leisure is consumed at 
Christie's and Phillips', or where not, to pick up pictures and 
such gauds. On these occasions he mostly stoppeth me, to read 
a short lecture on the advantage a person like me possesses 
above himself, in having his time occupied with business which 
he must do ; assureth me that he often feels it hang heavy on 
his hands ; wishes he had fewer holidays ; and goes off West- 
ward Ho ! chanting a tune to Pall Mall ; perfectly convinced 
that he has convinced me, while I proceed in my opposite 
direction tuneless. 

We feel that this picture needs no additional touches. 
" Marching in a quite opposite direction " was what John 
Lamb continued to do, in all respects, as concerned the 
dutiful and home-keeping members of his family. It was 
not to him that father and mother, sister or brother, were 
to look for help in their great need. Wholly different 
was the other elder child, next to him in age, Mary Lamb, 
the Bridget Elia of the Essays. Ten years older than 
Charles, she filled a position to him in these boyish days 




rather of mother than of sister. It is clear that these two 
children from the earliest age depended much on one 
another for sympathy and support. The mother never 
understood or appreciated the daughter's worth, and the 
father, who seems to have married late in life, was 
already failing in health and powers when Charles left 
school. The brother and sister were therefore thrown 
upon one another for companionship and intellectual 
sympathy, when school friendships were for a while sus- 
pended. Mary Lamb shared from childhood her brother's 
taste for reading. " She was tumbled early, by accident 
or design, into a spacious closet of good old English 
reading, without much selection or prohibition, and 
browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome pasturage." 
The spacious closet was, it would seem, the library of 
Samuel Salt, to which both she and Charles early had 
access. It was a blessed resource for them in face of 
the monotony and other discomforts of their home and 
against more serious evils. There was, as we have seen, 
a taint of mania in the family, inherited from the father's 
side. It appeared in different shapes in all three chil- 
dren, if we are to trust a casual remark in one of Charles' 
letters touching his brother John. But in Mary Lamb 
there is reason to suppose that it had been a cause of 
anxiety to her parents from an early period of her life. In 
one of his earliest poems addressed to Charles Lamb, 
Coleridge speaks of him creeping round a " dear -loved 
sister's bed, with noiseless step." soothing each pang with 
fond solicitude. These claims upon his brotherly watch- 
fulness fell to the lot of Charles while still a boy, and 
they were never relaxed during life. There was a 
pathetic truth in the prediction of Coleridge which fol- 
lowed : — 




Cheerily, dear Charles ! 
Thou thy best friend shalt cherish many a year. 

He continued to devote himself to this, his best friend, for 
more than forty years, and henceforth the lives of the 
brother and sister are such that the story of the one can 
hardly be told apart from the other. 

It has been said that Lamb's first years were passed 
between the Temple and Christ's Hospital — between 
" cloister and cloister " — but there were happy holiday 
seasons when he had glimpses of a very different life. 
These were spent with his grandmother, Mary Field, at 
the old mansion of the Plumer family, Blakesware, closely 
adjoining the pleasant village of Widford, in Hertford- 
shire. The Plumers had two residences in the county, 
one at Gilston, and the other just mentioned, a few miles 
distant. The latter was the house where the dowager 
Mrs. Plumer and younger children of the family re- 
sided. Sometimes there would be no members of the 
family to inhabit it, and at such times old Mrs. Field, who 
held the post of housekeeper for the last fifty or sixty 
years of her life, reigned supreme over the old place. Her 
three grandchildren were then often with her, and the 
old-fashioned mansion, with its decaying tapestries and 
carved chimneys, together with the tranquil, rural beauty 
of the gardens and the surrounding country, made an 
impression on the childish imagination of Lamb, which 
is not to be overlooked in considering the influences which 
moulded his thought and style. There were many ties of 
family affection binding him to Hertfordshire. His 
grandmother was a native of the county, and in the beau- 
tiful essay called Mackery End he has described a visit 
paid in later life to other relations, in the neighbourhood 
of Wheathampstead. It is noticeable how Lamb, the 




" scorner of the fields," as Wordsworth termed him, yet 
showed the true poet's appreciation of English rural 
scenery, whenever at least his heart was touched by any 
association of it with human joy or sorrow. 

In 1792 Mrs. Field died at a good old age, and lies 
buried in the quiet churchyard of Widford. Lamb has 
preserved her memory in the tender tribute to her virtues, 
The Crrawcfowie, which appearedamong his earliest published 
verses, — 

Hard by the house of prayer, a modest roof 
And not distinguished from its neighbour-barn 
Save by a slender tapering length of spire, 
The Grandame sleeps. A plain stone barely tells 
The name and date to the chance passenger. 

Time and weather have effaced even name and date, but 
the stone is still pointed out in Widf ord churchyard. The 
old lady had suffered long from an incurable disease, and 
the young Charles Lamb had clearly found some of his 
earliest religious impressions deepened by watching her 
courage and resignation : — 

For she had studied patience in the school 

Of Christ ; much comfort she had thence derived 

And was a follower of the Nazarene. 

With her death the tie with Blakesware was not broken. 
The family of the Lambs had pleasant relations with other 
of the Widford people. Their constant friend, Mr. Ran- 
dal Norris, the Sub-treasurer of the Inner Temple, had 
connexions with the place, and long after the death of Mrs. 
Field we find Lamb and his sister spending occasional 
holidays in the neighbourhood. 

At some date, unfixed, in the two years following his 

On the green hill top 

Library of 
The Church College of 




removal from Christ's Hospital, Charles obtained a post of 
some kind in the South Sea House, where his brother John 
held an appointment. No account of this period of his life 
remains to us, except such as can be drawn from the 
essay on the South Sea House, written thirty years later in 
the London Magazine as the first of the papers signed 
Elia. The essay contains little or nothing about himself, 
and we are ignorant as to the duties and emoluments of 
his situation. It was not long, however, before he got 
promotion, in the form of a clerkship in the accountant's 
office of the East India Company, obtained for him through 
the influence of Samuel Salt. His salary began at the. 
rate of 70 1, a year, rising by gradual steps, and in the service 
of the East India Company Charles Lamb continued for 
the rest of his working life. 

Of these first years of official life, from the date of his 
entry into the office in April, 1792, till the spring of 1796, 
there is little to be learned, save from a few scattered 
allusions in the letters which from this later date have 
been preserved. Up to the year 1795 the family of Lamb 
continued to live in the Temple, when the increasing 
infirmity of John Lamb the elder made him leave the 
service of his old employer, and retire on a small pension 
to lodgings in Little Queen Street, Holborn. JSTo fragment 
of writing of Charles Lamb of earlier date than 1795 has 
been preserved. His work as a junior clerk absorbed the 
greater part of his day and of his year. In his first 
years of service his annual holiday was a single week, and 
this scanty breathing-space he generally spent in his 
favourite Hertfordshire. Then there were the occasional 
visits to the theatre, and it was the theatre which all 
through life shared with books the keenest love of Lamb 
and his sister. He has left us an account, in the essay, 




My First Play, of his earliest experiences of this kind, 
beginning with Artaxerxes, and proceeding to The Lady of 
the Manor and the Way of the World, all seen by him 
when he was between six and seven years old. Seven years 
elapsed before he saw another play (for play-going was not 
permitted to Christ's Hospital boys), and he admits that 
when after that interval he visited the theatre again, much 
of its former charm had vanished. The old classical 
tragedy and the old-world sentimental comedy alike failed 
to satisfy him, and it was not till he first saw Mrs. 
Siddons that the acted drama reasserted its power. " The 
theatre became to him, once more," he tells us, " the most 
delightful of recreations." One of the earliest of his 
sonnets records the impression made upon him by this 
great actress. And as soon as we are admitted through 
his correspondence with Coleridge and others to know his 
tastes and habits, we find how important a part the drama 
and all its associations were playing in the direction of his 

]STor was the gloom of his home life unrelieved by 
occasional renewals of the intellectual companionship he 
had enjoyed at school. Coleridge had gone up to Jesus 
College, Cambridge, early in 1791, and except during the 
six months of his soldier's life in the Light Dragoons, 
remained there for the next four years. During this time 
he made occasional visits to London, when it was the 
great pleasure of the two school-fellows to meet at a tavern 
near Smithfield, the " Salutation and Cat " (probably a 
well-known rally ing-point in the old Christ's days), and 
there to spend long evenings in discussion on literature and 
the other topics dear to both. Coleridge was now writing 
poems, and finding a temporary home for them in tho 
columns of the Morning Chronicle. Among them 




appeared the sonnet on Mrs. Siddons, which was thus 
probably Lamb's first appearance in print. Both the 
young men were clearly dreaming of authorship, and 
Lamb's first avowed appearance as author was in the first 
volume of poems by Coleridge, published by Cottle, of 
Bristol, in the spring of the year 1796. "The effusions 
signed C. L.," says Coleridge in the preface to this volume, 
" were written by Mr. Charles Lamb of the India House. 
Independently of the signature, their superior merit would 
have sufficiently distinguished them." The effusions 
consisted of four sonnets, the one already noticed on Mrs. 
Siddons, one " written at midnight by the sea-side after a 
voyage," and two, in every way the most noteworthy, 
dealing with the one love-romance of Charles Lamb's life. 
The sonnets have no special literary value, but the first of 
these has importance enough in its bearing on Lamb's 
character to justify quotation : — 

Was it some sweet device of Faery 

That mocked my steps with many a lonely glade, 

And fancied wanderings with a fair-haired maid ? 

Have these things been ? Or what rare witchery, 

Impregning with delights the charmed air, 

Enlightened up the semblance of a smile 

In those fine eyes ? methought they spake the while 

Soft soothing things, which might enforce despair 

To drop the murdering knife, and let go by 

His foul resolve. And does the lonely glade 

Still court the footsteps of the fair-haired maid ? 

Still in her locks the gales of summer sigh ? 

While I forlorn do wander, reckless where, 

And 'mid my wanderings meet no Anna there. 

If the allusions in this and the following sonnet stood 
alone, we might well be asking, as in the case of Shake- 
speare's sonnets, whether the situation was not dramatic 




rather than autobiographical ; but we have good reasons 
for inferring that the Anna, " the fair-haired maid " of 
these poems, had a real existence. His first love is referred 

to constantly in later letters and essays as Alice W n, 

and it is easy to perceive that the Anna of the sonnets 

and this Alice W n were the same person. In both 

cases the fair hair and the mild, pale blue eyes are the 
salient features. But the sonnets that tell of these, tell 
also of the f< winding wood-walks green," and 

the little cottage which she loved, 
The cottage which did once my all contain. 

From these alone we might infer that Lamb had 
first met the subject of them, not in London, but 
during his frequent visits to Blakesware. Lamb him- 
self, often so curiously out-spoken on the subject 
of his personal history, has nowhere directly told us 
where he met his Alice, but he cannot seriously have 
meant to keep the secret. In the essay, Blakesmoor in 

H shire, he recalls the picture-gallery with the old 

family portraits, and among them " that beauty with the 
cool, blue, pastoral drapery, and a lamb, that hung next 
the great bay window, with the bright yellow Hertford- 
shire hair, so like my Alice / " His " fair-haired maid " 
was clearly from Hertfordshire. It will be seen hereafter 
what light is further thrown on the matter by Lamb him- 
self. All that we know as certain, is that Lamb, while 
yet a boy, lost his heart, and that whether the course of 
true love ran smooth or not, he willingly submitted to 
forego the hoped-for tie, when a claim upon his devotion 
appeared in the closer circle of his home. 

Unless, indeed, a more personal and even more terrible 
occasion of this sacrifice had arisen at an curlier date. We 




know, on his own admission, that in the winter of 1795-95, 
Charles Lamb himself succumbed to the family malady, 
and passed some weeks in confinement. In the earliest 
of his letters that has been preserved, belonging to the 
early part of 1796, he tells his friend Coleridge the sad 
truth : — 

My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks 
that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant 
spent very agreeably in a madhouse at Hoxton. I am got some- 
what rational now, and don't bite any one. But mad I was ! . . . . 
Coleridge, it may convince you of my regard for you when I tell 
you my head ran on you in my madness, as much almost as on 
another person, who I am inclined to think was the more 
immediate cause of my temporary frenzy. 

The " other person " can have been no other than the 
fair-haired Alice, and if disappointed love was the imme- 
diate cause of his derangement, the discovery in him of 
this tendency may have served to break off all relations 
between the lovers still more effectually. Wonderfully 
touching are the lines which, as he tells Coleridge in the 
same letter, were written by him in his prison-house in 
one of his lucid intervals : — 

To my Sister. 

If from my lips some angry accents fell, 

Peevish complaint, or harsh reproof unkind, 

'Twas but the error of a sickly mind 

And troubled thoughts, clouding the purer well, 

And waters clear, of Reason : and for me 

Let this nry verse the poor atonement be — 

My verse, which thou to praise wert e'er inclined 

Too highly, and with a partial eye to see 

No blemish. Thou to me didst ever show 

Kindest affection ; and would'st oft-times lend 




An ear to the despairing, love- sick lay, 
Weeping my sorrows with me, who repay 
But ill the mighty debt of love I owe, 
Mary, to thee, my sister and my friend. 

The history of many past weeks or months seems 
written in these lines ; the history of a hopeless attach- 
ment, a reason yielding to long distress of mind, and a 
sister's love already repaying by anticipation the " mighty 
debt " which in after days it was itself to owe. 

This year 1795-96, was indeed a memorable one in the 
annals of the brother and sister. The fortunes of the 
Lamb family were at low ebb. They had removed to 
lodgings in Little Queen Street, the mother a confirmed 
invalid, and the father sinking gradually into second child- 
hood. Charles had been temporarily under restraint, and 
Mary Lamb, in addition to the increasing labour of minis- 
tering to her parents, was working for their common 
maintenance by taking in needlework. It is not strange 
that ' under this pressure her own reason, so often 
threatened, at last gave way. It was in September 
of 1796 that the awful calamity of her life befell. A 
young apprentice girl, who was at work in the com- 
mon sitting-room while dinner was preparing, appears to 
have excited the latent mania. Mary Lamb seized a 
knife from the table, pursued the girl round the room, 
and finally stabbed to the heart her mother who had in- 
terfered in the girl's behalf. It was Charles Lamb him- 
self who seized the unhappy sister, and wrested the knife 
from her hand, but not before she had hurled in her 
rage other knives about the room, and wounded, though 
not fatally, the now almost imbecile father. The Times of 
a few days later relates that an inquest was held on 
the following day, and a verdict of insanity returned in 




the case of the unhappy daughter. Lamb's account of the 
event is given in a letter to Coleridge, of Sept. 27th. 

My dearest Feiend,— White, or some of my friends, or 
the public papers by this time may have informed you of the 
terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only 
give you the outlines : — My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of 
insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand 
only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is 
at present in a madhouse, from whence I fear she must be moved 
to an hospital. God has preserved to me my senses — I eat, and 
drink, and sleep, and have my judgment, I believe, very sound. 
My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care 
of him and my aunt. Mr. Norris, of the Bluecoat School, has 
been very kind to us, and we have no other friend ; but, thank 
God, I am very calm and composed, and able to do the best 
that remains to do. Write as religious a letter as possible, 
but no mention of what is gone and done with. With me the 
" former things are passed away," and I have something more 
to do than to feel. 

God Almighty have us well in His keeping. 

C. Lamb. 

Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige 
of past vanities of that kind. Do as you please ; but if you 
publish, publish mine (I give free leave) without name or initial, 
and never send me a book, I charge you. 

A second letter followed in less than a week, in a tone 
somewhat less forlorn. 

Your letter was an inestimable treasure to me. It will be a 
comfort to you, I know, to know that our prospects are somewhat 
brighter. My poor dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and uncon- 
scious instrument of the Almighty's judgments on our house, is 
restored to her senses ; to a dreadful sense and recollection of 
what has past, awful to her mind and impressive (as it must be 
to the end of life), but tempered with religious resignation and 


the reasonings of a sound judgment, which, in this early stage, 
knows how to distinguish between a deed committed in a tran- 
sient fit of frenzy, and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder. I 
have seen her. I found her, this morning calm and serene ; 
far, very far, from an indecent, forgetful serenity ; she has a 
most alfectionate and tender concern for what has happened. 
Indeed, from the beginning, frightful and hopeless as her dis- 
order seemed, I had confidence enough in her strength of mind 
and religious principle, to look forward to a time when even she 
might recover tranquillity. God be praised, Coleridge, wonder- 
ful as it is to tell, I have never once been otherwise than col- 
lected and calm ; even on the dreadful day, and in the midst of 
the terrible scene, I preserved a tranquillity which bystanders 
may have construed into indifference — a tranquillity not of 
despair. Is it folly or sin in me to say that it was a religious 
principle that most supported me? I allow much to other 
favourable circumstances. I felt that I had something else to 
do than to regret. On that first evening, my aunt was lying in- 
sensible, to all appearance like one dying, — my father, with his 
poor forehead plastered over, from a wound he had received from 
a daughter dearly loved by him, who loved him no less dearly, — 
my mother a dead and murdered corpse in the next room, — yet 
was I wonderfully supported. I closed not my eyes in sleep that 
night, but lay without terrors and without despair. I have lost 
no sleep since. I had been long used not to rest in things of 
sense ; had endeavoured after a comprehension of mind, unsatis- 
fied with the " ignorant present time," and this kept me up. I 
had the whole weight of the family thrown on me ; for my 
brother, little disposed (I speak not without tenderness for him) 
at any time to take care of old age and infirmities, had now, with 
his bad leg, an exemption from such duties, and I was now 

left alone 

Our friends here have been very good. Sam Le Grice, who 
was then in town, was with me the three or four first days, and 
was as a brother to me ; gave up every hour of his time, to the 
very hurting of his health and spirits, in constant attendance 
and humouring my poor father; talked with him, read to him, 




played at cribbage with him (for so short is the old man's re- 
collection that he was playing at cards, as though nothing had 
happened, while the coroner's inquest was sitting over the way). 
Samuel wept tenderly when he went away, for his mother wrote 
him a very severe letter on his loitering so long in town, and he 
was forced to go. Mr. Norris, of Christ's Hospital, has been as 
a father to me ; Mrs. Norris as a mother, though we had few 
claims on them. A gentleman, brother to my godmother, from 
whom we never had right or reason to expect any such assist- 
ance, sent my father 201. ; and to crown all these God's 
blessings to our family at such a time, an old lady, a cousin 
of my father's and aunt's, a gentlewoman of fortune, is to 
take my aunt and make her comfortable for the short remain- 
der of her days. My aunt is recovered, and as well as ever, and 
highly pleased at thoughts of going ; and has generously given 
up the interest of her little money (which was formerly paid my 
father for her board) wholly and solely to my sister's use. 
Reckoning this, we have, Daddy and I, for our two selves and 
an old maid-servant to look after him when I am out, which will 
be necessary, 1701., or 1801. rather, a year, out of which we can 
spare 50Z. or 601. at least for Mary while she stays at Islington, 
where she must and shall stay during her father's life, for his 
and her comfort. I know John will make speeches about it, 
but she shall not go into an hospital. The good lady of the 
madhouse, and her daughter — an elegant, sweet-behaved young 
lady — love her and are taken with her amazingly ; and I know 
from her own mouth she loves them, and longs to be with them 
as much. Poor thing ! they say she was but the other morning 
saying she knew she must go to Bethlehem for life; that one of 
her brothers would have it so, but the other would wish it not, 
but be obliged to go with the stream ; that she had often as she 
passed Bethlehem thought it likely, " here it may be my fate to 
end my days," conscious of a certain flightiness in her poor 
head oftentimes, and mindful of more than one severe illness of 
that nature before. A legacy of 100Z., which my father will 
have at Christmas, and this 201. I mentioned before, with what 



b in the Imn-f, will much mora than let us clear, II my father, 
an old servant-maid, and I, can't live, and live comfortably, on 
1 or 1 *_'<>/. a \ ear. we ought to burn by slow (ires; and I 
almost would, that Mary might not go into an hospital. Let 
me not leave one unfavourable impression on your mind respect- 
ing my brother. Since this has happened he has been very 
kind and brotherly, but I fear for his mind. He has taken his 
ease in the world, and is not tit hiin-elf to struggle with diffi- 
culties, nor has much accustomed himself to throw himself into 
their way; and I know his language is already, " Charles, you 
must take care of yourself, you must not abridge yourself of a 
single pleasure you have been used to," «fcc, &c, and in that 
style of talking. But you, a necessarian, can respect a difference 
of mind, and love what is amiable in a character not perfect. 
He has been very good, but I fear for his mind. Thank God, I 
can unconnect myself with him, and shall manage all my father's 
monies in future myself if I take charge of Daddy, which poor John 
has not even hinted a wish, at any future time even, to share with 
me. The lady at this madhouse assures me that I may dismiss 
immediately both doctor and apothecary, retaining occasionally 
a composing draught or so for a while ; and there is a less 
expensive establishment in her house, where she will not only 
have a room and nurse to herself for 50/. or guineas a year — 
the outside would be 60/. — you know by economy how much 
more even I shall be able to spare for her comforts. She will, I 
fancy, if she stays make one of the family, rather than of the 
patients ; the old and young ladies I like exceedingly, and she 
loves dearly ; and they, as the saying is, take to her extra- 
ordinarily, if it is extraordinary that people who see my sister 
should love her. Of all the people I ever saw in the world, my 
poor sister was most and thoroughly devoid of the quality of 
selfishness. I will enlarge upon her qualities, dearest soul, 
in a future letter for my own comfort, for I understand her 
thoroughly ; and if I mistake not, in the most trying situation 
that a human being can be found in, she will be found (I speak 
not with sufficient humility, I fear, but humanly and foolishly 




speaking) she will be found, I trust, uniformly great and amiable. 
God keep her in her present mind, to whom be thanks and 
praise for all His dispensations to mankind. 

It is necessary for the full understanding of what 
Charles Lamb was, and of the life that lay before him, that 
this deeply interesting account should be given in his own 
words. Anything that a biographer might add would only 
weaken the picture of courage, dutifulness and affection here 
presented. The only fitting sequel to it is the history of 
the remaining five-and-thirty years in which he fulfilled 
so nobly and consistently his self-imposed task. 

That task was made lighter to him than in the natural 
dejection of the first sad moments he could have dared to 
hope. The poor old father survived the mother but a few 
months, and passed quietly out of life early in the follow- 
ing year. The old aunt, who did not long find a home 
with the capricious relative who had undertaken the 
charge of her, returned to Charles and his father, only, 
however, to survive her brother a few weeks. Charles was 
now free to consult his own wishes as to the future care of 
his sister. She was still in the asylum at Hoxton, and it 
was his earnest desire that she might return to live with 
him. By certain conditions and arrangements between him 
and the proper authorities, her release from confinement was 
ultimately brought about, and the brother's guardianship 
was accepted as sufficient for the future. She returned to 
share his solitude for the remainder of his life. The 
mania which had once attacked Charles, never in his case 
returned. Either the shock of calamity, or the controlling 
power of the vow he had laid on himself, overmastered the 
inherited tendency. But in the case of Mary Lamb it 
returned at frequent intervals through life, never again 

B.] FAMILY ^THTT.r.I.KS ANP Siillllows. n 

I) >l>pilv with any disastrous n sult, Tho attacks teem to 
have been p-nrrally attended with forvwarninps, which 
enabled tho brother and sister to tak, the necessary 
tn. asun s, and ;l ill. n<l of th- Lunbs ha. related how on 
one occasion he met tho brother and sister, at such a 
season, walking han.l in hand across the folds to the old 
asylum, Loth bathed in tear*. 




Early in 1797 Charles Lamb and his sister began their 
life of " dual loneliness." But during these first years the 
brother's loneliness was often unshared. Much of Mary 
Lamb's life was passed in visits to the asylum, and the 
mention of her successive attacks is of melancholy recur- 
rence in Charles' letters. Happily for the brother's sanity 
of mind, he was beginning to find friends and sympathies 
in new directions. What books had been to him all his 
life, and what education he had been finding in them, is 
evident from his earliest extant letters. His published 
correspondence begins in 1796, with a letter to Coleridge, 
then at Bristol, and from this and other letters of the 
same year we see the first signs of that variety of literary 
taste so noteworthy in a young man of twenty- one. The 
letters of this year are mainly on critical subjects. He 
encloses his own sonnets, and points out the passages in 
elder writers, Parnell or Cowley, to which he has been 
indebted. Or he acknowledges poems of Coleridge, sent 
for his criticism, and proceeds to express his opinion on 
them with frankness. He had been introduced to Southey, 
by Coleridge, some time in 1795, and he writes to the 
latter, " With Joan of Arc I have been delighted, amazed ; 


I had not presumed to expert anything of sucli excellence 
from Southey. Why, tlie pot-m is alone sullieicnt to 
redeem the character of the ago we live in from the im- 
putation of degenerating in poetry, were there no such 
Wings extant as Hums, U »\vl< s, and Co\vp«-r, and — ; 
fill up the blank how you please." It is noticeable also 
how prompt the young man was to discover the real 
Significance of the poetic revival of the latter years of the 
eighteenth century. Burns he elsewhere mentions at this 
time to Coleridge in strongi-r terms of enthusiam as having 
been the " God of my idolatry, as Bowles was of yours," 
nor was he less capable of appreciating the " divine chit- 
chat " of Cowper. The real greatness of Wordsworth he 
was one of the earliest to discover and to proclaim. And 
at the same time his imagination was being stirred by 
the romantic impulse that was coming from Germany. 
" Have you read," he asks Coleridge, "the ballad called 
1 Leonora ' in the second number of the Monthly Magazine ? 
If you have ! ! ! There is another fine song, from the 
same author (Burger) in the third number, of scarce in- 
ferior merit." But still more remarkable in the intellec- 
tual history of so young a man is the acquaintance he 
shows with the earlier English authors, at a time when the 
revival of Shakespearian study was comparatively recent, 
and when the other Elizabethan dramatists were all but 
unknown save to the archaeologist. We must suppose that 
the library of Samuel Salt was more than usually rich in 
old folios, for certainly Lamb had not only ' browsed ' (to 
use his own expression), but had read and criticized deeply, 
as well as discursively. In a letter to Coleridge of this 
same year, 1796, he quotes with enthusiasm the rather 
artificial lines of Massinger in A very Woman, pointing 
out the " fine effect of the double endings." 

36 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

Not far from where my father lives, a lady, 

A neighbour by, blest with as great a beauty 

As nature durst bestow without undoing, 

Dwelt, and most happily, as I thought then, 

And blest the house a thousand times she dwelt in. 

This beauty , in the blossom of my youth, 

When my first fire knew no adulterate incense, 

Nor I no way to flatter but my fondness, 

In all the bravery my friends could show me, 

In all the faith my innocence could give me, 

In the best language my true tongue could tell me, 

And all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, 

I sued and served ; long did I serve this lady, 

Long was my travail, long my trade to win her; 

With all the duty of my soul I served her. 1 

Beaumont and Fletcher he quotes with no less delight, 
"in which authors I can't help thinking there is a 
greater richness of poetical fancy than in any one, Shake- 
speare excepted." Again, he asks the same inseparable 
friend, " Among all your quaint readings did you ever 
light upon Walton's Complete Angler? I asked you 
the question once before ; it breathes the very spirit of 
innocence, purity, and simplicity of heart ; there are many 
choice old verses interspersed in it : it would sweeten a 
man's temper at any time to read it : it would Christianize 
every discordant angry passion." And while thus dis- 
cursive in bis older reading, he was hardly less so in the 
literature of his own century. He had been fascinated by 
the Confessions of Rousseau, and was for a time at least 
under the influence of the sentimental school of novelists, 
the followers of Eichardson and Sterne in England. So 
varied was the field of authors and subjects on which his 
style was being formed and his fancy nourished. 

1 These lines are interesting as having been chosen by Lamb 
for a " motto " to his first published poems. As so used, they 
clearly bore a reference to his own patient wooing at that time. 


Long afterwards, in his essay on />W,v* and [{fading, ho 
boasted that he could read anything which he ealled 
<i l"»>k. " I have no repugnances. Shaftesbury is not 
to., genteel for me, nor Jonathan Wi] 1 too low." Hut 
this versatility of sympathy, which was at the root of 
so large a Part of both matter ami manner when he at 
length discovered where his real strength lay, had tho 
elleet of delaying that discovery lor some time. His iirst 
essays in literature were mainly imitative, and though 
there is not on.- of them that is without his p.-culiar charm, 
or that | lover of Charles Lamb would willingly let die, 
they are more interesting from the fact of their author- 
ship, and from the light they throw on the growth of Lamb's 
mind, than for their intrinsic value. 

Meantime, his life in the lonely Queen Street lodging 
was cheered by the acquisition of some new friends, chiefly 
introduced by Coleridge. He had known Southey since 
1795, and some time in the following year, or early in 
171*7, he had formed a closer bond of sympathy with 
Charles Lloyd, son of a banker of Birmingham, a young 
man of poetic taste and melancholy temperament, who had 
taken up his abode, for the sake of intellectual compa- 
nionship, with Coleridge at Bristol. One of the first results 
of this companionship was a second literary venture in 
which the new friend took a share. A second edition of 
Poems by S. T. Coleridge, to which are now added Poems 
by Cliarles Lamb and Cliarles Lloyd, appeared at Bristol, 
in the summer of 1797, published by Coleridge's devoted 
admirer, Joseph Cottle. 

"There were inserted in my former edition," writes 
Coleridge in the preface, " a few sonnets of my friend and 
old school-fellow, Charles Lamb. He has now communi- 
cated to me a complete collection of all his poems ; quae 




qui non prorsus aniet, ilium omnes et virtutes et veneres 
odere." The phrase is a trifle grandiloquent to describe 
the short list — some fifteen in all — of sonnets and occa- 
sional verses here printed. Nor is there anything in 
their style to indicate the influence of new models. A 
tender grace of the type of his old favourite, Bowles, 
is still their chief merit, and they are interesting as 
showing how deeply the events of the past few years had 
stirred the religious side of Charles Lamb's nature. A 
review of the day characterized the manner of Lamb and 
Lloyd as " plaintive," and the epithet is not ill-chosen. 
Lamb was still living chiefly in the past, and the thought 
of his sister, and recollection of the pious " Grandame " 
in Hertfordshire, with kindred memories of his own 
childhood and disappointed affections, make the subject- 
matter of almost all the verse. A little allegorical poem, 
with the title of "A Vision of Repentance," relegated 
to an appendix in this same volume, marks the most 
sacred confidence that Lamb ever gave to the world as to 
his meditations on the mystery of evil. 

It is unlikely that this little venture brought any 
profit to its authors, or that a subsequent volume of blank 
verse by Lamb and Lloyd in the following year was more 
remunerative. To Lloyd the question was doubtless of 
less importance ; but Lamb was anxious for his sister's 
sake to add to his scanty income, and with this view he 
resolved to make an experiment in prose fiction. In the 
year 1798 he composed his little story, bearing the title, 
as originally issued, of A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old 
Blind Margaret. 

This " miniature romance," as Talfourd calls it, is per- 
haps better known after the essays of Elia, than any of 
Lamb's writings, and the secret of its charm, in the face 



of improbabilities and unrealities of many kinds, is one of 
the curiosities of literature. The story itself is built up 
of the most heterogeneous materials. The idea of the 
story, the ruin of a village maiden, Rosamund Gray, by a 
melodramatic villain with the " uncommon " name of 
Matravis, was suggested to Lamb, as he admits in a letter 
to Southey, by a " foolish " (and it must be added, a very 
scurrilous) old ballad about "an old woman clothed in 
grey." The name of his heroine he borrowed from some 
verses of his friend Lloyd's (not included in their joint 
volume), and that of the villain from one of the ruffians 
employed to murder the king in Marlowe's Edward the 
Second, — that death-scene which he afterwards told the 
world " moved pity and terror beyond any scene ancient 
or modern " with which he was acquainted. The conduct 
of the little story bears strong traces of the influence of 
Richardson and Mackenzie, and a rather forced reference 
to the latter's Julia de Roubigne seems to show where he 
had lately been reading. A portion of the narrative is 
conducted by correspondence between the two well-bred 
young ladies of the story, and when one of them begins a 
letter to her cousin, " Health, innocence, and beauty shall 
be thy bridesmaids, my sweet cousin," we are at once 
aware in what school of polite letter-writing the author 
had studied. After the heroine, the two principal cha- 
racters are a brother and sister, Allan and Elinor Clare, 
the relation between whom (the sister is represented as 
just ten years older than her brother) is borrowed almost 
without disguise from that of Lamb and his sister Mary. 
"Elinor Clare was the best good creature, the least selfish 
human being I ever knew, always at work for other 
people's good, planning other people's happiness, con- 
tinually forgetful to consult for her own personal gratifica- 




tions, except indirectly in the welfare of another ; while 
her parents lived, the most attentive of daughters ; since 
they died, the kindest of sisters. I never knew but one 
like her." There is besides a schoolfellow of Allan's, who 
precedes him to college, evidently a recollection of the 
school-friendship with Coleridge. But still more signifi- 
cant as showing the personal element in the little 
romance, is the circumstance that Lamb lays the scene of 
it in that Hertfordshire village of Widford where so many 
of his own happiest hours had been spent, and that the 
heroine, Rosamund Gray, is drawn with those features on 
which he was never weary of dwelling in the object of his 
own boyish passion. Rosamund, with the pale blue eyes 
and the " yellow Hertfordshire hair " is but a fresh copy 
of his Anna and his Alice. That Rosamund Gray had 
an actual counterpart in real life seems certain, and the 
little group of cottages, in one of which she dwelt with 
her old grandmother, is still shown in the village of Wid- 
ford, about half a mile from the site of the old mansion ot 
Blakesware. And it is the tradition of the village, and 
believed by those who have the best means of judging, 
that "Rosamund Gray" (her real name was equally 

remote from this, and from Alice W n) was Charles 

Lamb's first and only love. Her fair hair and eyes, her 
goodness, and (we may assume) her poverty, were drawn 
from life. The rest of the story in which she bears a part 
is of course pure fiction. The real Anna of the sonnets 
made a prosperous marriage, and lived to a good old 

As if Lamb were resolved to give his little tale the 
character of personal " confessions," he has contrived to 
introduce into it, by quotation or allusion, all his favourite 
writers, from Walton and Wither to Mackenzie and Burns. 


l>ut of moro interest from this point of view than any 
resemblances of detail, is the shadow, as of recent calamity, 
that rests upon the story, and the strain of religious 
emotion that pervades it. It is this that gives the 
romance, conventional as it is for the most part in its 
treatment of life and manners, its real attractiveness. It 
is redolent of Lamb's native sweetness of heart, delicacy 
of feeling, and undefinable charm of style. And these 
qualities did not altogether fail to attract attention. The 
little venture was a moderate success, and brought its 
author some " few guineas." One tribute to its merits was 
paid many years later, which, we may hope, did not fail 
to reach the author. Shelley, writing to Leigh Hunt 
from Leghorn, in 1819, and acknowledging the receipt of 
a parcel of books, adds, " With it came, too, Lamb's works. 
What a lovely thing is his Rosamund Gray ! How much 
knowledge of the sweetest and deepest part of our nature 
in it ! When I think of such a mind as Lamb's, when I 
see how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and 
complete perfection, what should I hope for myself, if I 
had not higher objects in view than fame 1 " 

There is scanty material for the biographer of Lamb and 
his sister during these first four years of struggling poverty. 
The few events that varied their monotonous life are to be 
gathered from the letters to Coleridge and Southey, written 
during this period. The former was married, and living at 
Nether Stowey, near Bristol, where Charles and Mary 
Lamb paid him apparently their first visit, during one of 
Charles' short holidays in the summer of 1797. This 
visit was made memorable by a slight accident that befell 
Coleridge on the day of their arrival, and forced him to 
remain at home while his visitors explored the surrounding 
country. Left alone in his garden, he composed the 




curiously Wordsworthian lines, bearing for title (he was 
perhaps reminded of Ferdinand in the Tempest), " This 
lime-tree bower my prison," in which he apostrophizes 
Lamb as the " gentle-hearted Charles," and addresses him 
as one who had — 

Hungered after nature, many a year 
In the great city pent, winning thy way 
With sad and patient zeal, through evil and pain 
And strange calamity. 

Charles did not quite relish the epithet " gentle-hearted," 
and showed that he winced under a title that savoured a 
little of pity or condescension. Indeed, it is evident, in 
spite of the real affection that Lamb never ceased to feel 
for Coleridge, that the relations between the friends were 
often strained during these earlier days. This year, 1797, 
was that of the joint volume, and the mutual criticism 
indulged so freely by both was leaving a little soreness 
behind. Then there was the question of precedence 
between Lamb and Lloyd in this same volume, which was 
settled in Lloyd's favour, not without a few pangs, con- 
fessed by Lamb himself. And when, in the following 
year, Coleridge was on the eve of his visit to Germany 
with the Wordsworths, a foolish message of his, " If Lamb 
requires any knowledge, let him apply to me," had been 
repeated to Lamb by some injudicious friend, and did not 
tend to improve matters. Lamb retaliated by sending 
Coleridge a grimly humorous list of " Theses qutedam 
Theologicse," to be by him "defended or oppugned (or both) 
at Leipsic or Gottingen." Numbers five and six in this 
list may be given as a sample. "Whether the higher 
order of Seraphim illuminati ever sneer % " " Whether 
pure intelligences can love, or whether they can love any- 
thing besides pure intellect 1 " The rest are in the same 




vein, and if they have any point at all, it must lie in an 
allusion to certain airs of lofty superiority in which 
Coleridge had indulged to the annoyance of his friend. 
There was a temporary soreness in the heart of Charles 
on parting with his old companion. There had been a 
grievance of the same kind before. It had been bitterly 
repented of, even in a flood of tears. To the beginning of 
this year, 1798, belong the touching verses composed in 
the same spirit of self-confession that has marked so much 
of his writing up to this period, about the "old familiar 
faces." In their earliest shape they are more directly auto- 
biographical. Lamb afterwards omitted the first stanza, 
and gave the lines a less personal character. The precise 
occasion of their being written seems uncertain, but the 
reference to the friend whom he had so nearly thrown 
away, in a moment of pique, is unmistakable. 

Where are they gone, the old familiar faces ? 
I had a mother, but she died, and left me — 
Died prematurely in a day of horrors — 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

I have had playmates, I have had companions 

In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days, 

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

I have been laughing, I have been carousing, 
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies — 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

I loved a love once, fairest among women. 
Closed are her doors on me, I must not seo her — 
All, all are gone, tho old familiar faces. 

I had a friend, a kindor friend has no man. 
Liko an ingrate, 1 left my friend abruptly J 
Left him to muso on tho old familiar faces. 




Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood. 
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse, 
Seeking to find the old familiar faces. 

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother ; 
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling, 
So might we talk of the old familiar faces. 

For some they have died, and some they have left me, 
And some are taken from me, all are departed ; 
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. 

The "friend of my bosom" was the new associate, 
Lloyd, who seems for a time at least to have taken Cole- 
ridge's place as Lamb's special confidant. He, too, had 
had his grievances against the " greater Ajax," and the two 
humbler combatants, who had " come into battle under his 
shield," found consolation at this time in one another. 
Lloyd was moody and sensitive — even then a prey to the 
melancholy which clung to him through life, and it was 
well for Lamb that on Coleridge leaving England he had 
some more genial companionship to take refuge in. 
It was three years since he had made the acquaintance of 
Southey. In the summer of 1797 he and Lloyd had 
passed a fortnight under his roof in Hampshire. And 
now that Coleridge was far away, it was Southey who 
naturally took his place as literary adviser and confidant. 

We gather from Lamb's letters to Southey, in 1798-99, 
that this change of association for the time was good for 
him. Coleridge and Lloyd were of temperaments too 
nearly akin to Lamb's to be wholly serviceable in these 
days, when the calamities in his family still overshadowed 
him. The friendship of Southey, the healthy-natured, 
the industrious, and the methodical, was a wholesome 
change of atmosphere. Southey was now living at West- 




bury, near Bristol. Though only a few months Lamb's 
senior, ho had been three years a married man, and was 
valiantly working to support his young wife by that craft 
of literature which he followed so patiently to his life's 
end. In this year, 1798, he was in his sweetest and most 
humorous ballad vein. It was the year of the Well of 
St. Keyne and the Battle of Blenheim, and other of those 
shorter pieces by which Southey will always be most 
widely known. He had not failed to discover Lamb's 
value as a critic, and each eclogue or ballad, as it is written, 
is submitted to his judgment. The result of this change 
of interest is shown in a marked difference of tone and 
style in Lamb's letters. He is less sad and meditative, 
and begins to exhibit that peculiar playfulness which we 
associate with the future Elia. One day he writes, — 
" My tailor has brought me home a new coat, lapelled, with a 
velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears velvet collars 
now. Some are born fashionable, some achieve fashion, 
and others, like your humble servant, have fashion thrust 
upon them." And his remarks on Southey 's ode To a 
Spider (in which he justly notes the metre as its chief 
merit, and wonders that " Burns had not hit upon it ") 
are followed by a discursive pleasantry having the true 
Elia ring, " I love this sort of poems that open a new 
intercourse with the most despised of the animal and 
insect race. I think this vein may be further opened. 
Peter Pindar hath very prettily apostrophized a fly; 
Burns hath his mouse and his louse ; Coleridge, less 
successfully, hath made overtures of intimacy to a jackass, 
therein only following, at unresembling distance, Sterne 
and greater Cervantes. Besides these, I know of no other 
examples of breaking down the partition between us and 
our 'poor earth-born companions.'" And the suggestion 




that follows, that Southey should undertake a series of 
poems, with the object of awakening sympathy for animals 
too generally ill-treated or held in disgust, is most charac- 
teristic, both in matter and manner. Indeed it is in these 
earlier letters to Southey, rather than in his poetry or in 
Rosamund Gray, that Charles Lamb was feeling the way 
to his true place in literature. Already we observe a vein 
of reflectiveness and a curious felicity of style which owe 
nothing to any predecessor. And if his humour, even in 
his lightest moods, has a tinge of sadness, it is not to be 
accounted for only by the suffering he had passed through. 
It belonged in fact to the profound humanity of its author, 
to the circumstance that with him, as with all true 
humorists, humour was but one side of an acute and 
almost painful sympathy. 

At the close of the year 1799 Coleridge returned from 
Germany, and the intercourse between the two friends was 
at once resumed, never again to be interrupted. Early in 
the year following Charles and his sister removed from the 
Queen Street lodging, where they had continued to reside 
since his mother's death, to Chapel Street, Pentonville. 
It appears from a letter of Charles to Coleridge, in the 
spring of 1800, that there was no alleviation of his burden 
of constant anxiety. The faithful old servant of many 
years had died, after a few days' illness, and Lamb 
writes, |" Mary, in consequence of fatigue and anxiety, is 
fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. 
I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead 
body to keep me company. To-morrow I bury her, and 
then I shall be quite alone with nothing but a cat to 
remind me that the house has been full of living beings 
like myself. My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know- 
where to look for relief. Mary will get better again, but 


her constantly being liable to these attacks is dreadful j 
nor is it the least of our evils that her case and all our 
story is so well known around us. We are in a manner 
marked. Excuse my troubling you, but I have nobody by 
me to speak to me. I slept out last night, not being able 
to .endure the change and the stillness ; but I did not 
sleep well, and I must come back to my own bed. I am 
going to try and get a friend to come and be with me to- 
morrow. I am completely shipwrecked. My head is quite 
bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead. | God bless 
you. Love to Sarah and little Hartley." 

It is the solitary instance in which he allows us to see 
his patience and hopefulness for a moment failing him. 
That terrible sentence " we are in a manner marked " has 
not perhaps received its due weight, in the estimate of 
what the brother and sister were called upon to bear. It 
seems certain that if they were not actually driven from 
lodging to lodging, because the dreadful rumour of mad- 
ness could not be shaken off, they were at least 
shunned and kept at a distance where'ver they went. 
The rooms in Pentonville they soon received notice to 
quit, and it was then that Charles turned, perhaps because 
they were more quiet and secure from vulgar overlooking, 
to the old familiar and dearly-loved surroundings of his 
childhood. " I am going to change my lodgings," he 
writes later in this same year to his Cambridge friend, 
Manning, in a tone of cheerful looking-forward simply 
marvellous, considering the immediate cause of the 
removal. "I am going to change my lodgings, having 
received a hint that it would be agreeable, at our Lady's 
next feast. I have partly fixed upon most delectable 
rooms, which look out (when you stand a tip-toe) over the 
Thames and Surrey Hills, at the upper end of King's 




Bench Walks in the Temple. There I shall have all the 
privacy of a house without the encumbrance, and shall be 
able to lock my friends out as often as I desire to hold free 
converse with my immortal mind — for my present lodgings 
resemble a minister's levee, I have so increased my ac- 
quaintance (as they call 'em) since I have resided in town. 
Like the country mouse that had tasted a little of urbane 
manners, I long to be nibbling my own cheese by my dear 
self, without mouse-traps and time-traps. By my new 
plan I shall be as airy, up four pair of stairs, as in the 
country, and in a garden in the midst of enchanting (more 
than Mahomedan paradise) London, whose dirtiest drab- 
frequented alley, and her lowest-bowing tradesman, I would 
not exchange for Skiddaw, Helvellyn, James, Walter, and 
the parson into the bargain. ! her lamps of a night ! 
her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, 
hardware men, pastry-cooks, St. Paul's Churchyard, the 
Strand, Exeter Change, Charing Cross, with the man upon 
a black horse ! These are thy gods, London ! Ain't 
you mightily moped on the banks of the Cam 1 Had you 
not better come and set up here % You can't think what 
a difference. All the streets and pavements are pure gold, 
I warrant you. At least, I know an alchemy that turns 
her mud into that metal — a mind that loves to be at home 
in crowds." 

In a letter to Wordsworth, of somewhat later date, reply- 
ing to an invitation to visit the Lakes, he dwells on the 
same passionate love for the great city, — the "place of his 
kindly engendure " — not alone for its sights and sounds, 
its prirjt-shops, and its bookstalls, but for the human faces, 
without which the finest scenery failed to satisfy his sense 
of beauty. " The wonder of these sights," he says, u im- 
pels me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I 




often shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy 
at so much life. All these emotions must be strange to 
you ; so are your rural emotions to me. But consider 
what must I have been doing all my life not to have 
lent great portions of my heart with usury to such 
scenes ? " 

" What must • I have been doing all my life 1 " 
This might well be the language of tender retrospect 
indulged by some man of sixty. It is that of a young 
man of six-and-twenty. It serves to show us how much 
of life had been crowded into those few years. 





Lamb was now established in his beloved Temple. For 
nearly nine years he and his sister resided in Mitre Court 
Buildings, and for about the same period afterwards within 
the same sacred precincts, in Inner Temple Lane. Of 
adventure, domestic or other, his biographer has hence- 
forth little to relate. The track is marked on the one 
hand by his changes of residence and occasional brief 
excursions into the country, on the other by the books he 
wrote and the friendships he formed. 

He had written to his friend Manning, as we have seen, 
how his acquaintance had increased of late. Of such 
acquaintances Manning himself is the most interesting to 
us, as having drawn from Lamb a series of letters by far 
the most important of those belonging to the period before 
us. Manning was a remarkable person, whose acquain- 
tance Lamb had made on one of his visits to Cambridge 
during the residence at that University of his friend Lloyd. 
He was mathematical tutor at Caius, and, in addition 
to his scientific turn, was possessed by an enthusiasm 
which in later years he was able to turn to very practical 
purpose, for exploring the remoter parts of China and 
Thibet. Lamb had formed a strong admiration for 


Manning's genius. He told Crabb Robinson in after 
years that he was the most " wonderful man " he had 
ever met. Perhaps the circumstance of Manning's two 
chief interests in life being so remote from his own, drew 
Lamb to him by a kind of " sympathy of difference." 
Certainly he made very happy use of the opportunity for 
friendly banter thus afforded, and the very absence of a 
responsive humour in his correspondent seems to have 
imparted an additional richness to his own. Meantime, 
to add a few guineas to his scanty income, he was turning 
this gift of humour to what end he could. For at least 
three years (from 1800 to 1803) he was an occasional con- 
tributor of facetious paragraphs, epigrams, and other trifles 
to the newspapers of the day. " In those days " as he 
afterwards told the world in one of the Elia essays (News- 
papers Thirty-five Years Ago), " every morning paper, as 
an essential retainer to its establishment, kept an author, 
who was bound to furnish daily a quantum of witty para- 
graphs. Sixpence a joke, and it was thought pretty high 
too — was Dan Stuart's settled remuneration in these cases. 
The chat of the day, scandal, but above all, dress, fur- 
nished the material. The length of no paragraph was to 
exceed seven lines. Shorter they might be, but they 
must be poignant." Dan Stuart was editor of the Morn- 
ing Post, and Lamb contributed to this paper, and also to 
the Chronicle and the Albion. Six jokes a day was the 
amount he tells us he had to provide during his engage- 
ment on the Popt, and in the essay just cited he dwells 
with much humour on the misery of rising two hours 
before breakfast (his days being otherwise fully employed 
at the India House) to elaborate his jests. " No Egyptian 
task-master ever devised a slavery like to that, our 
slavery. Half a dozen jests in a day (bating Sundays 

52 CHARLES LAMB. [chap. 

too) why, it seems nothing ; we make twice the number 
every day in our lives as a matter of course, and 
claim no sabbatical exemptions. Bat then they come 
into our head. But when the head has to go out 
to them, when the mountain must go to Mahomet ! " 
A few samples of Lamb's work in this line have 
been preserved. One political squib has survived, chiefly 
perhaps as having served to give the coup de grace 
to a moribund journal, called the Albion, which had been 
only a few weeks before purchased (" on tick doubtless," 
Lamb says) • by that light-hearted spendthrift, John 
Fenwick, immortalized in another of Lamb's essays (The 
Two Races of Men) as the typical man ivho borrows. The 
journal had been in daily expectation of being prosecuted, 
when a (not very scathing) epigram of Lamb's on the 
apostacy of Sir James Mackintosh, alienated the last of 
Fenwick's patrons, Lord Stanhope, and the ' murky 
closet,' " late Eackstraw's museum " in Fleet Street, knew 
the editor and his contributors no more. Lamb was not 
called upon to air his Jacobin principles, survivals from his 
old association with Coleridge and Southey, any further in 
the newspaper world. " The Albion is dead," he writes to 
Manning, " dead as nail in door — my revenues have 
died with it ; but I am not as a man without hope." He 
had got a new introduction, through his old friend George 
Dyer, to the Morning Chronicle, under the editorship of 
Perry. In 1802, we find him again working for the Post, 
but in a different line. Coleridge was contributing to 
that paper, and was doing his best to obtain for Lamb 
employment on it of a more dignified character than 
providing the daily quantum of jokes. He had proposed 
to furnish Lamb with prose versions of German poems for 
the latter to tarn into metre. Lamb had at first demurred, 


on the reasonable ground that Coleridge, whose gift of 
verse was certainly equal to his own, might as easily do 
the whole process himself. But the pressure of pecuniary 
difficulty was great, and a fortnight later he is telling 
Coleridge that the experiment shall at least be tried. " As 
to the translations, let me do two or three hundred lines, 
and then do you try the nostrums upon Stuart in any 
way you please. If they go down, I will try more. In 
fact, if I got, or could but get, fifty pounds a year only, in 
addition to what I have, I should live in affluence." By 
dint of hard work, much against the grain, he contrived 
during the year that followed to make double the hoped- 
for sum ; but humour and fancy produced to order could 
not but fail sooner or later. It came to an end some time 
in 1803. " The best and the worst to me," he writes to 
Manning in this year (Lamb rarely dates a letter), " is that 
I have given up two guineas a week at the Post, and re- 
gained my health and spirits, which were upon the wane, 
I grew sick, and Stuart unsatisfied. Ludisti satis, tempus 
abire est. I must cut closer, that's all." 

While writing for the newspapers, he had not allowed 
worthier ambitions to cool. He was still thinking of 
success in very different fields. As early as the year 
1799 he had submitted to Coleridge and Southey a five- 
act drama in blank verse, with the title of Pride's Cure, 
afterwards changed to John Woodvil. His two friends 
had urgently dissuaded him from publishing, and though 
he followed this advice, he had not abandoned the hope 
of seeing it one day upon the stage, and at Christmas of 
that year had sent it to John Kemble, then manager of 
Drury Lane. Nearly a year later, having heard nothing 
in the meantime from the theatre on the subject, he 
applied to Kemble to know his fate. The answer was 




returned that the manuscript was lost, and Lamb had to 
furnish a second copy. Later, Kemble went so far as to 
grant the author a personal interview, but the final result 
was that the play was declined as unsuitable. 

That Lamb should ever have dreamed of any other 
result may well surprise even those who have some expe- 
rience of the attitude of a young author to his first drama. 
John Woodvil has no quality that could have made its 
success on the stage possible. It shows no trace of con- 
structive skill, and the character-drawing is of the crudest. 
By a strange perverseness of choice, Lamb laid the scene 
of his drama, written in a language for the most part 
closely imitated from certain Elizabethan models, in the 
period of the Restoration, and with a strange careless- 
ness introduced side by side with the imagery and 
rhythm of Fletcher and Massinger a diction often ludi- 
crously incongruous. Perhaps the most striking feature of 
the play, regarded as a serious effort, is the entire want of 
keeping in the dialogue. Certain passages have been often 
quoted, such as that on which Lamb evidently prided 
himself most, describing the amusements of the exiled 
baronet and his son in the forest of Sherwood, — 

To see the sun to bed, and to arise 
Like some hot amourist with glowiDg eyes, 
Bursting the lazy bands of sleep that bound him 
With all his fires and travelling glories round him. 
# * # * * 

To view the leaves, thin dancers upon air, 
Go eddying round, and small birds, how they fare, 
When mother autumn fills their beaks with corn 
Filched from the careless Amalthea's horn. 

They serve to show how closely Lamb's fancy and 
his ear were attuned to the music of Shakespeare and 


Shakespeare's contemporaries j but the illusion is suddenly 
broken by scraps of dialogue sounding the depths of 
bathos, — 

Servant. — Gentlemen, the fireworks are ready. 
First Gent.— What be they ? 

Lovell.— The work of London artists, which our host has provided 
in honour of this day. 

or by such an image as that with which the play con- 
cludes, of the penitent John Woodvil, kneeling on the 
" hassock " in the " family-pew " of St. Mary Ottery, in 
the "sweet shire of Devon." 

Lamb was not deterred by his failure with the managers 
from publishing his drama. It appeared in a small duo- 
decimo in 1802 ; and when, sixteen years later, he included 
it in the first collected edition of his writings, dedicated to 
Coleridge, he was still able to look with a parent's ten- 
derness upon this child of his early fancy. "When I 
wrote John Woodvil" he says, " Beaumont and Fletcher, 
and Massinger, were then a first love, and from what I 
was so freshly conversant in, what wonder if my language 
imperceptibly took a tinge 1 " This expresses in fact the 
real significance of the achievement. Though it is impos- 
sible seriously to weigh the merits of John Woodvil as a 
drama, it is yet of interest as the result of the studies of a 
young man of fine taste and independent judgment in a 
field of English literature which had lain long unexplored. 
Within a few years Charles Lamb was to contribute, by 
more effective methods, to the revived study of the Eliza- 
bethan drama, but in the meantime he was doing some- 
thing, even in John Woodvil, to overthrow the despotic 
conventionalities of eighteenth-century " poetic diction," 
and to reaccustom the ear to the very different harmonies 
of an older time. 




John Woodvil was noticed in the Edinburgh Review for 
April, 1803. Lamb might have been at that early date 
too insignificant, personally, to be worth the powder and 
shot of Jeffrey and his friends, but he was already known 
as the associate of Coleridge and Southey, and it was this 
circumstance — as the concluding words of the review 
rather unguardedly admit — that marked his little volume 
for the slaughter. He had been already held up to ridi- 
cule in the pages of the Anti-Jacobin, as sharing the 
revolutionary sympathies of Coleridge and Southey. It 
is certainly curious that Lamb, who never " meddled with 
politics," home or foreign, any more than the Anti- Jacobin's 
knife-grinder himself, should have his name embalmed 
in that periodical as a leading champion of French 
Socialism : — 

Coleridge and Southey, Lloyd and Lamb and Co., 
Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepeaux. 

There was abundant opportunity in Lamb's play for the 
use of that scourge which the Edinburgh Review may be 
said to have first invented as a critical instrument. Plot 
and characters, and large portions of the dialogue, lent 
themselves excellently to the purposes of critical banter, 
and it was easy to show that Lamb had few qualifications 
for the task he had undertaken. As he himself observed 
in his essay on Hogarth : "It is a secret well known to 
the professors of the art and mystery of criticism, to insist 
upon what they do not find in a man's works, and to pass 
over in silence what they do." It was open to the 
reviewer to note, as even Lamb's friend Southey noted, 
the " exquisite silliness of the story," but it did not enter 
into his plan to detect, as Southey had done, the " exqui- 
site beauty " of much of the poetry. The reason why 


it is worth while to dwell for a moment on this forgotten 
review (not, by the way, by Jeffrey, although Lamb's 
friends seem generally to have attributed it to the editor's 
own hand) is that it shows how mueh Lamb was in 
advance of his reviewer in familiarity with our older 
literature. The review is a piece of pleasantry, of which 
it would be absurd to complain, but it is the pleasantry 
of an ignorant man. The writer affects to regard the 
play as a specimen of the primeval drama. " We have 
still among us," he says, " men of the age of Thespis," 
and declares that " the tragedy of Mr. Lamb may indeed 
be fairly considered as supplying the first of those lost links 
which connect the improvements of iEschylus with the 
commencement of the art." Talfourd expresses wonder 
that a young critic should "seize on a little eighteen- 
penny book, simply printed, without any preface : make 
elaborate merriment of its outline, and, giving no hint of 
its containing one profound thought or happy expression, 
leave the reader of the review at a loss to suggest a motive 
for noticing such vapid absurdities." But there is really 
little cause for such wonder. The one feature of impor- 
tance in the little drama is that it here and there imitates 
with much skill the imagery and the rhythm of a 
family of dramatists whom the world had been content 
entirely to forget for nearly two centuries. There is no 
reason to suppose that Lamb's reviewer had any acquain- 
tance with these dramatists. The interest of the review 
consists in the evidence it affords of a general ignorance, 
even among educated men, which Lamb was to do more 
than any man of his time to dispel. The passage about 
the sports in the Forest, which set William Godwin (who 
met with it somewhere as an extract) searching through 
Beaumont and Fletcher to find, probably conveyed no idea 




whatever, to the Edinburgh Eeviewer, save that which 
he honestly confessed, that here was a specimen of versi- 
fication which had been long ago improved from off the 
face of the earth. 

In the summer of 1802 Charles and his sister spent 
their holiday, three weeks, with Coleridge at Keswick. 
The letters to Coleridge and Manning referring to this 
visit show pleasantly that there was something of affecta- 
tion in the disparaging tone with which Charles was wont 
to speak of the charms of scenery. Though on occasion 
he would make his friends smile by telling that when he 
ascended Skiddaw he was obliged, in self-defence, to revert 
in memory to the ham-and-beef shop in St. Martin's Lane, 
it is evident from his enthusiastic words to Manning 
that the Lake scenery had moved and delighted him. 
" Coleridge dwells," he writes to Manning, " upon a 
small hill by the side of Keswick, in a comfortable house, 
quite enveloped on all sides by a net of mountains : great 
floundering bears and monsters they seemed, all couchant 
and asleep. We got in in the evening, travelling in a 
post-chaise from Penrith, in the midst of a gorgeous sun- 
set which transmuted all the mountains into colours, 
purple, &c. &c. We thought we had got into Fairyland. 
But that went off (as it never came again, while we stayed 
we had no more fine sunsets) ; and we entered Coleridge's 
comfortable study just in the dusk, when the mountains 
were all dark with clouds upon their heads. Such an 
impression I never received from objects of sight before, 
nor do I suppose that I can ever again. Glorious creatures, 
fine old fellows, Skiddaw, &c, I never shall forget ye, 
how ye lay about that night, like an entrenchment ; gone 
to bed, as it seemed for the night, but promising that ye 
were to be seen in the morning." And later, "We have 


clambered up to the top of Skiddaw, and I have waded 
up the bed of Lodore. In fine, I have satisfied myself 
that there is such a thing as that which tourists call 
romantic, which I very much suspected before." And 
again, of Skiddaw, " Oh, its fine black head, and the bleak 
air atop of it, with a prospect of mountains all about and 
about, making you giddy ; and then Scotland afar off, and 
the border countries so famous in song and ballad ! It 
was a day that will stand out like a mountain, I am sure, 
in my life." 

It is pleasant to read of these intervals of bracing air, 
both to body and mind, in the story of the brother and sister, 
for the picture of the home life in the Temple lodging at 
this time, drawn by the same frank hand, is anything but 
cheerful. This very letter to Manning (who was appa- 
rently spending his holiday in Switzerland) goes on to hint 
of grave anxieties and responsibilities belonging to the life 
in London. " My habits are changing, I think, i. e. from 
drunk to sober. Whether I shall be happier or not 
remains to be proved. I shall certainly be more happy 
in a morning ; but whether I shall not sacrifice the fat, 
and the marrow, and the kidneys — i. e. the night, glorious 
care-drowning night, that heals all our wrongs, pours wine 
into our mortifications, changes the scene from indifferent 
and flat to bright and brilliant 1 Manning, if I should 
have formed a diabolical resolution by the time you come 
to England, of not admitting any spirituous liquors into 
my house, will you be my guest on such shameworthy 
terms 1 Is life, with such limitations, worth trying 1 
The truth is that my liquors bring a nest of friendly 
harpies about my house, who consume me. This is a pitiful 
tale to be read at St. Gothard, but it is just now nearest 
my heart." 




The tale is indeed a sad one, and we have no reason to 
suppose it less true than pitiful. There is no concealment 
on the part of Lamb himself, or his sister, or of those who 
knew him most intimately, of the fact that from an early 
age Charles found in wine, or its equivalents, a stimulus 
that relieved him under the pressure of shyness, anxiety, 
and low spirits, and that the habit remained with him till 
the end of his life. It is not easy to deal with this 
" frailty" (to borrow Talfourd's expression) in Lamb, 
without falling into an apologetic tone, suggestive of the 
much-abused proverb connecting excuse with accusation. 
But it is the biographer's task to account for these things, 
if not to excuse them, and at this period there is not 
wanting evidence of hard trials attending the life of the 
brother and sister which may well prompt a treatment 
of the subject, the reverse of harsh. There is a corre- 
spondence extant of Mary Lamb with Miss Stoddart, who 
afterwards became the wife of William Hazlitt, which 
throws much sad light on the history of the joint home 
during these years. The pressure of poverty was being 
keenly felt. " I hope, when I write next," she says, early 
in 1804, "I shall be able to tell you Charles has begun 
something which will produce a little money : for it is not 
well to be venj poor, which we certainly are at this present 
writing." Charles' engagement as contributor of squibs 
and occasional paragraphs to the Morning Post had come to 
an end, just before this letter of Mary's : but poverty was 
not the worst of the home troubles. It is too clear that 
both brother and sister suffered from constant and haras- 
sing depression, and that their heroic determination to 
live entirely for each other, only made matters worse. 
" It has been sad and heavy times with us lately," Mary 
writes in the year following (1805). " When I am pretty 


well, his low spirits throw me back again ; and when he 
begins to get a little cheerful, then I do the same kind 
office for him f and again, " Do not say anything when 
you write, of our low spirits — it will vex Charles. You 
would laugh, or you would cry, perhaps both, to see us 
sit together, looking at each other with long and rueful 
faces, and saying 1 How do you do 1 ' and 1 How do you 
do I ' and then we fall a crying, and say we will be better 
on the morrow. He says we are like toothache and his 
friend gum-boil, which though a kind of ease, is but an 
uneasy kind of ease, a comfort of rather an uncomfortable 
sort." In the following year we gather that Charles, still 
bent on success in the drama as the most likely means of 
adding to his income, had begun to write a farce, and 
finding the gloom here described intolerable, in such an 
association, had taken a cheap lodging hard by to which 
he might retire, and pursue his work without distraction. 
But the more utter solitude proved as intolerable as the 
depressing influences of home. "The lodging," writes 
Mary Lamb, " is given up, and here he is again — Charles, 
I mean — as unsettled and as undetermined as ever. 
When he went to the poor lodging, after the holidays I 
told you he had taken, he could not endure the solitari- 
ness of them, and I had no rest for the sole of my foot 
till I promised to believe his solemn protestations that he 
could and would write as well at home as there." 

There is a remark in this same letter, hardly more 
touching than it is indicative of the clear-sighted wisdom 
of this true-hearted woman. " Our love for each other," 
she writes, " has been the torment of our lives hitherto. 
I am most seriously intending to bend the whole force of 
my mind to counteract this, and I think I see some 
prospect of success." It doubtless was this strong 




affection, working by ill-considered means, that made 
much of the unhappiness of Charles Lamb's life. His 
sense of what he owed to his sister, who had been mother 
and sister in one, his admiration for her character, and his 
profound pity for her affliction, made him resolve that no 
other tie, no other taste or pleasure, should interfere with 
the prime duty of cleaving to her as long as life should 
last. But this exclusive devotion was not a good thing 
for either. They wanted some strong human interests 
from outside to assist them to bear those of home. They 
were both fond of society. In their later more prosperous 
days they saw much society of a brilliant and notable 
sort, but already Charles had made the discovery that 
" open house " involved temptation of a kind he had not 
learnt to resist. The little suppers, at home and with 
friends elsewhere, meant too much punch and too much 
tobacco, and the inevitable sequel of depression and 
moroseness on the morrow. " He came home very smoky 
and dririhy last night," is the frequent burden of Miss 
Lamb's letters. And so it came to pass that his social 
life was spent too much between these two extremes 
— the companionship of that one sister, anxiety for whose 
health was always pressing, and whose inherited instincts 
were too like his own, and the convivialities which 
banished melancholy for a while and set his fancy and his 
speech at liberty, but too often did not bear the morning's 
reflection. He needed at this time fewer companions, but 
more friends. Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, Manning, 
were all out of London, and only in his scanty holidays, 
or on occasion of their rare visits to town, could he take 
counsel with them. 

One pleasant gleam of sunshine among the driving 
clouds of those years of anxiety is afforded in the lines 


on Hester Savary. During the few months that Lamb 
and his sister lodged at Pentonville in 1800, he had 
fallen in love (for the second and last time) with a young 
Quakeress. In sending the verses to Manning (in Paris) 
in 1803, Lamb recalls the old attachment as one his 
friend would remember having heard him mention. 
However ardent it may have been, it was presumably with- 
out hope of requital, for Lamb admits that he had never 
spoken to the lady in his life. He may have met her 
daily in his walks to and from the office, or have watched 
her week by week on her way to that Quaker's meeting 
he has so lovingly described elsewhere. And now, only 
a month before, she had died, and Lamb's true vein, 
unspoiled by squibs and paragraphs written to order for 
party journals, flows once more in its native purity and 
sweetness : — 

When maidens such as Hester die 
Their place ye may not well supply, 
Though ye among a thousand try 

With vain endeavour. 
A month or more hath she been dead, 
Yet cannot I by force be led 
To think upon the wormy bed 

And her together. 

A springy motion in her gait, 

A rising step, did indicate 

Of pride and joy no common rate 

That flushed her spirit. 
I know not by what name beside 
I shall it call : if 'twas not pride, 
It was a joy to that allied 

She did inherit. 

Her parents hold the Quaker rulo 
Which doth the human spirit cool : 




But she was trained in Nature's school, 

Nature had blest her. 
A waking eye, a prying mind, 
A heart that stirs, is hard to bind : 
A hawk's keen sight ye cannot blind, — 

Ye could not Hester. 

My sprightly neighbour, gone before 
To that unknown and silent shore, 
Shall we not meet, as heretofore, 

Some summer morning — 
When from thy cheerful eyes a ray 
Hath struck a bliss upon the day, 
A bliss that would not go away, 

A sweet fore-warning ? 

These charming verses are themselves a " sweet fore- 
warning 19 of happier times to come. New friends were at 
hand, and new interests in literature were soon to bring a 
little cheerful relief to the monotony of the Temple lodging. 
"We have already heard something of a play in preparation. 
The first intimation of Lamb's resolve to tempt dramatic for- 
tune once again is in a letter to Wordsworth, in September, 
1805. " I have done nothing," he writes, " since the begin- 
ning of last year, when I lost my newspaper job, and having 
had a long idleness, I must do something, or we shall get 
very poor. Sometimes I think of a farce, but hitherto all 
schemes have gone off ; an idle brag or two of an evening, 
vapouring out of a pipe, and going off in the morning ; 
but now I have bid farewell to my ' sweet enemy ' 
tobacco, as you will see in the next page, I shall perhaps 
set nobly to work. Hang work ! " He did set to work, 
in good heart, during the six months that followed. 
Mary Lamb's letters contain frequent references to the 
farce in progress, and before Midsummer, 1806, it was 
completed, and accepted by the proprietors of Drury Lane. 
The farce was the celebrated Mr. H. 


No episode of Lamb's history is better known than the 
production, and the summary failure of this jeu 6? esprit. 
That it failed is no matter for surprise, and most certainly 
none for regret. Though it had the advantage, in its 
leading character, of the talent of Elliston, the best light- 
comedian of his day, the slightness of the interest (dealing 
with the ( inconveniences befalling a gentleman who is 
ashamed to confess that his real name is Hogsflesh) was 
too patent for the best acting to contend against. Crabb 
Eobinson, one of Lamb's more recent friends, accompanied 
the brother and sister to the first and only performance, 
and received the impression that the audience resented 
the vulgarity of the name, when it was at last revealed, 
rather than the flimsiness of the plot. But the latter 
is quite sufficient to account for what happened. The 
curtain fell amid a storm of hisses, in which Lamb is 
said to have taken a conspicuous share. Indeed, his 
genuine critical faculty must have come to his deliverance 
when he thus viewed his own work from the position of 
an outsider. He expresses no surprise at the result, after 
the first few utterances of natural disappointment. The 
mortification must have been considerable. The brother 
and sister had looked forward to a success. They sorely 
needed the money it might have brought them, and 
Charles' deep-seated love of all things dramatic made 
success in that field a much cherished hope. But he bore 
his failure, as he bore all his disappointments in life, with 
a cheerful sweetness. He writes to Hazlitt : " Mary is 
a little cut at the ill-success of Mr. H., which came out 
last night and failed. I know you'll be sorry, but never 
mind. We are determined not to be cast down. 1 am 
going to leave off tobacco, and then wo must thrive. A 
smoky man must write smoky farces." It must be 





admitted that Mr. H. is not much better in reading than 
it was found in the acting. Its humour, consisting 
largely of puns and other verbal pleasantries, exhibits little 
or nothing of Lamb's native vein, and the dialogue is too 
often laboriously imitated from the conventional comedy- 
dialogue then in vogue. But even had this been different, 
the lack of constructive ability already shown in John 
Woodvil must have made success as a writer for the stage 
quite beyond his reach. 

He was on safer ground, though not perhaps working so 
thoroughly con amove, in another literary enterprise of 
this time. In 1805, he had made the acquaintance of 
William Hazlitt, and Hazlitt had introduced him to 
William Godwin. Godwin had started, as his latest 
venture, a series of books for children, to which he himself 
contributed under the name of Edward Baldwin. Lamb, 
writing to his friend Manning, in May, 1806, thus 
describes a joint task in which he and his sister were 
engaged in connexion with this scheme : " She is doing 
for Godwin's bookseller twenty of Shakespeare's plays, to 
be made into children's tales. Six are already done by 
her, to wit, The Tempest, Winter's Tale, Midsummer 
Night, Much Ado, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Cym- 
beline; and the Merchant of Venice is in forwardness. I 
have done Othello and Macbeth, and mean to do all the 
tragedies. I think it will be popular among the little 
people, besides money. It's to bring in sixty guineas. 
Mary has done them capitally, I think you'd think." Mary 
herself supplements this account in a way that makes 
curiously vivid to us the homely realities of their joint 
life. She writes about the same time : " Charles has 
written Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and has begun 
Hamlet. You would like to see us, as we often sit writing 


on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia 
and Helena, in the Midsummer Nl<jltfs Dream ; or rather 
like an old literary Darby and Joan, I taking snulf, and he 
groaning all the while, and saying he can make nothing of 
it, which he always says till he has finished, and then he 
finds out he has made something of it." Writing these 
Tab * from Shakespeare was no doubt task-work to the 
brother and sister, but it was task-work on a congenial 
theme, and one for which they had special qualifications. 
They had, to start with, a profound and intimate acquain- 
tance with their original, which set them at an infinite dis- 
tance from the usual compilers of such books for children. 
They had, moreover, command of a style, Wordsworthian 
in its simplicity and purity, that enabled them to write 
down to the level of a child's understanding, without any 
appearance of condescension. The very homeliness of the 
style may easily divert attention from the rare critical 
faculty, the fine analysis of character, that marks the 
writers' treatment of the several plays. It is no wonder 
that the publisher in announcing a subsequent edition 
was able to boast that a book designed for young children 
had been found suitable for those of more advanced age. 
There is, indeed, no better introduction to the study of 
Shakespeare than these Tales — no better initiation into 
the mind of Shakespeare, and into the subtleties of his 
language and rhythm. For the ear of both Charles and 
Mary Lamb had been trained on the cadences of Eliza- 
bethan English, and they were able throughout to weave 
the very words of Shakespeare into their narrative without 
producing any effect of discrepancy between the old and 
the new. 

The Tales were published in 1807, and were a success, 
a second edition appearing in the following year. One 




result of this success was a commission from Godwin to 
make another version of a great classic for the "benefit of 
children, the story of the Odyssey. Lamb was no Greek 
scholar, but he had been, like Keats, stirred by the rough 
vigour of Chapman's translation. " Chapman is divine," 
he said afterwards to Bernard Barton, "and my abridg- 
ment has not quite emptied him of his divinity." And 
the few words of preface with which he modestly intro- 
duced his little book as a supplement to that well-known 
school classic the Adventures of Telemachus, shows that the 
moral value of this record of human vicissitude had moved 
him not less than the variety of the adventure. " The 
picture which he exhibits," he writes, " is that of a brave 
man struggling with adversity ; by a wise use of events, 
and with an inimitable presence of mind under difficulties, 
forcing out a way for himself through the severest trials to 
which human life can be exposed ; with enemies natural 
and supernatural surrounding him on all sides. The 
agents in this tale, besides men and women, are giants, 
enchanters, sirens ; things which denote external force or 
internal temptations, the two-fold danger which a wise 
fortitude must expect to encounter in its course through 
this world." We cannot be wrong in judging that Charles 
Lamb had seen in this " wisdom of the ancients " an 
image of sirens and enchanters, of trials and disciplines, that 
beset the lonely dweller at home not less surely than the 
wanderer from city to city, and had found therein some- 
thing of a cordial and a tonic for himself. No one felt 
more repugnance than did Lamb to the appending of a 
formal moral to a work of art, to use his own comparison, 
like the " God send the good ship safe into harbour " at 
the end of a bill of lading. But it was to be his special 
note as a critic that he could not keep his human com- 


passion from blending with his judgment of every work of 
human imagination. If his strength as a critic was — and 
remains for us — as the " strength of ten," it was because 
his heart was pure. 

To what masterly purpose he had been long training 
this faculty of criticism he was now about to show. 
The letter to Manning, which tells of his Adventures of 
UlystOSj announces a more important undertaking — 
apparently a commission from the firm of Longman — 
Specimmm of English Dramatic Poets contemporary 
with Shakespeare. " Specimens," he writes, " are becoming 
fashionable. We have Specimens of Ancient English 
Poets, Specimens of Modern English Poets, Speci- 
mens of Ancient English Prose Writers, without end. 
They used to be called ' Beauties.' You have seen Beauties 
of Sliakespeare? so have many people that never saw any 
beauties in Shakespeare." But Lamb's method was to 
have little in common with that of the unfortunate Dr. 
Dodd. " It is to have notes," is the brief mention of that 
feature of the collection which was at once to place their 
author in the first rank of critics. The commentary, often ex- 
tending to no more than a dozen or twenty lines appended 
to each scene, or each author chosen for illustration, was 
of a kind new to a generation accustomed to the Variorum 
school of annotator. It contains no philology, no anti- 
quarianism, no discussion of difficult or corrupt passages. 
It takes its character from the principle set forth in the 
Preface on which the selection of scenes is made : — 

The kind of extracts which I have sought after have been, 
not so much passages of wit and humour — though the old plays 
are rich in such — as scenes of passion, sometimes of the deepest 
quality, interesting situations, serious descriptions, that which 
is more nearly allied to poetry than to wit, and to tragic rather 




than comic poetry. The plays which I have made choice of have 
been with few exceptions those which treat of human life and 
manners, rather than masques and Arcadian Pastorals, with 
their train of abstractions, unimpassioned deities, passionate 
mortals, Claius, and Medorus, and Amintas, and Amaryllis. My 
leading design has been to illustrate what may be called the 
moral sense of our ancestors. To show in what manner they 
felt when they placed themselves by the power of imagination 
in trying situations, in the conflicts of duty and passion, or the 
strife of contending duties ; what sort of loves and enmities 
theirs were ; how their griefs were tempered, and their full- 
swoln joys abated ; how much of Shakespeare shines in the great 
men his contemporaries, and how far in his divine mind and 
manners he surpassed them and all mankind. 

The very idea of the collection was a bold one. When 
we cast our eye over the list of now familiar names, Mar- 
lowe and Peele, Marston, Chapman, Ford, and Webster, 
from whom Lamb chose his scenes, we must not forget 
that he was pleading their merits before a public which 
knew them only as names, if it knew them at alL With 
the one exception of Shakespeare, the dramatists of the 
period, between " the middle of Elizabeth's reign and the 
close of the reign of Charles I.," were unknown to the 
general reader of the year 1808. Shakespeare, indeed, 
had a permanent stage-existence — that best of commen- 
taries which fine acting supplies, to which Lamb himself 
had been from childhood so largely indebted. But for 
those who studied him in the closet there was no aid to 
his interpretation save such as was supplied by the very 
unilluminating notes of Johnson or Malone. And this 
circumstance must be taken into account if we would 
rightly estimate the genius of Lamb. As a critic he had 
no master — it might almost be said, no predecessor. He 
was the inventor of his own art. As the friend of Cole- 


ridge, he might have heard something of that school of 
dramatic criticism of which Lessing was the founder, but 
there is little trace of any such influence in Lamb's own 
critical method. And though, three years later, Coleridge 
was to make another contribution of value to the same 
cause, in the Lectures on Shakespeare delivered at the 
London Philosophical Society,, it is likely that his obliga- 
tions were at least as great to Lamb, as those of Lamb had 
ever been, in the same field, to Coleridge. 

The suggestion in the preface, already cited, of Shake- 
speare as the representative dramatist, the standard by 
which his contemporaries must be content to be judged, 
is amply followed up in the notes, and gives a unity of its 
own to a collection so miscellaneous. I may refer, as 
examples, to the masterly distinction drawn between the 
use made of the supernatural by Middleton in the Witch, 
and by Shakespeare in Macbeth, and again to the contrast 
indicated between the Dirge in Webster's White Devil and 
the "Ditty which reminds Ferdinand of his drowned father 
in the Tempest " — " as that is of the water, watery ; so is 
this of the earth, earthy. Both have that intenseness of 
feeling which seems to resolve itself into the elements 
which it contemplates," — a criticism which could only have 
been conceived by one who was himself a poet. Plow 
admirably again does he draw attention (in a note on the 
Merry Devil of Edmonton) to that feature of Shakespeare's 
genius which perhaps more than any other is forced upon 
the reader's mind as he turns from passage to passage in 
this collection : — " This scene has much of Shakespeare's 
manner in the sweetness and good-naturedness of it. It 
seems written to make the reader happy. Few of our 
dramatists or novelists have attended enough to this. 
They torture and wound us abundantly. They are 




economists only in delight." Nothing, again, can be 
more profound than his remark on the elaborate and 
ostentatious saintliness of Ordella (in Fletcher's Thierry 
and Tlieodoret). " Shakespeare had nothing of this con- 
tortion in his mind, none of that craving after romantic 
incidents, and flights of strained and improbable virtue, 
which I think always betray an imperfect moral sensibility." 
And yet though Lamb's fine judgment approved the 
fidelity to nature, and the artistic self-control, which he 
here emphasises in his great model, it is clear that the 
audacious conceptions, both of character and situation, in 
which writers such as Ford and Tourneur indulged, had 
no small fascination for him. As he recalled the dreary 
types of virtue, the "insipid levelling morality to which 
the modern stage is tied down," he turned with joy — as 
from a heated saloon into the fresh air — to the " vigorous 
passions " the " virtues clad in flesh and blood," with 
which the old dramatists presented him. And this joy in 
the presentment of the naked human soul is felt through- 
out all his criticisms on the more terrible scenes of Shake- 
speare's successors. His " ears tingle," or his eyes fill, or 
his heart leaps within him, as Calantha dies of her Broken 
Heart, or Webster's Duchess yields slowly to the torture. 
Hence it is that Lamb's criticism as often takes the form 
of a study of human life, as of the dramatist's art. And 
hence also the effect he often leaves of having indulged in 
praise too great for the occasion. There is, moreover, 
another reason for this last-named result, which was in- 
separable from Lamb's method. No two dramatists can be 
measured by comparing passage with passage, scene with 
scene. Shakespeare and Marlowe cannot be compared or 
contrasted by setting the death of Edward II. side by side 
with that of Richard II. Drama must be put side by side 


with drama. Lamb does not indeed suggest, by anything 
that he says, that the rank of a dramatist can be decided 
by passages or extracts. Only it did not enter into his 
scheme to dwell upon that supreme art of construction, 
and that highest gift of characterization, which are 
needed to make the perfect dramatist. In " profoundness 
of single thoughts," in " richness of imagery," in " abun- 
dance of illustration," he could produce passage after 
passage from Shakespeare's contemporaries that evinced 
genius nearly allied to Shakespeara's ; but of that " funda- 
mental excellence " which " distinguishes the artist from 
the mere amateur, that power of execution which creates, 
forms, and constitutes," it was not possible for him to supply 
example. And this reservation the student must be 
prepared to make, who would approach the study of 
the Elizabethan Drama by the aid of Charles Lamb's 

But, whatever qualification must be interposed, it is 
certain that the publication of these extracts, and the 
accompanying commentary, has a well-defined place in the 
poetical renascence that marked the early years of this 
century. The revived study of the old English drama- 
tists — other than Shakespeare — dates from this publica- 
tion. Coleridge had not yet begun to lecture, nor Hazlitt 
to write, and it was not till some twenty years later that 
Mr. Dyce began his different, but not less important, 
labours in the same field. To Lamb must be allowed the 
credit of having first recalled attention to a range of 
poetical excellence, in forgetfulness of which English 
poetry had too long pined and starved. It was to these 
mountain-heights of inspiration — not to the cultivated 
lowlands of the eighteenth century — that poetry was to 
turn her eyes for help. 




Talfourd made the acquaintance of Charles Lamb early 
in the year 1815, and has recorded the impression left 
by his appearance and manner at that time in words 
which at this stage of our memoir it may be con- 
venient to quote. Lamb has been fortunate in his 
verbal describers, if not in the attempts of the painter's 
art to convey a true idea of his outward man. Leigh 
Hunt has declared that " there never was a true portrait 
of Lamb " — and those who take the trouble to examine in 
succession the half-dozen portraits that are in existence 
are obliged to admit that it is difficult to derive from them 
any consistent idea of his features and expression. But it 
so happens that we have full length portraits of him drawn 
by other hands, which more than compensate for this 
want. Poets, critics, and humourists, of kindred genius, 
have left on record how Charles Lamb appeared to them ; 
and though the various accounts bear, as might be ex- 
pected, the strong impress of their writers' individuality, 
and though each naturally gives most prominence to 
the traits that struck him most, the final impression 
left is one of agreement, in remarkable degree. We have 
descriptions of Lamb, all possessing points of great 

CH. V.J 



interest by Talfourd, Procter, Hood, Patmore, and others, 
and from these it is possible to learn how their sub- 
ject looked and spoke and bore himself, with a precision 
and vividness that we are seldom in such cases allowed to 
enjoy. I have the advantage of being able to con- 
firm their accounts by the testimony of a living witness. 
Mr. James Crossley, of Manchester, has related to me his 
recollections of more than one interview which he had 
with Lamb, nearly sixty years ago, and has kindly allowed 
me to make use of them. 

Talfourd's reminiscence, committed to writing shortly 
after Lamb's death, if slightly idealized by his own poetic 
temperament, is not for that reason a less satisfactory 
basis on which to form a conception of Charles Lamb's 
appearance. " Methinks I see him before me now, as he 
appeared then, and as he continued with scarcely any 
perceptible alteration to me, during the twenty years of 
intimacy which followed, and were closed by his death. 
A light frame, so fragile that it seemed as if a breath would 
overthrow it, clad in clerk-like black, was surmounted by 
a head of form and expression the most noble and sweet. 
His black hair curled crisply about an expanded fore- 
head ; his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with varying 
expression, though the prevalent feeling was sad ; and the 
nose slightly curved, and delicately carved at the nostril, 
with the lower outline of the face regularly oval, completed 
a head which was finely placed on the shoulders, and gave 
importance and even dignity to a diminutive and shadowy 
stem. Who shall describe his countenance, catcli its 
quivering sweetness, and fix it for ever in words? There 
are none, alas, to answer the vain desire of friendship. 
Deep thought, striving with humour ; the lines of suffer- 
ing wreathed into cordial mirth; and a smile of painful 




sweetness, present an image to the mind it can as little 
describe as lose. His personal appearance and manner 
are not unfitly characterized by what he himself says in 
one of his letters to Manning, of Braham, ' a compound 
of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel.' " 

From this tender and charming sketch it is instructive 
to turn to the rude etching on copper made by Mr. Brook 
Pulham from life, in the year 1825, which in the opinion 
of Lamb's biographers (and Mr. Crossley confirms their 
judgment) gives a better idea than all other existing por- 
traits, of Charles Lamb's outward man. The small stature 
— he was very noticeably below the middle height — the 
head apparently out of proportion to the slender frame, 
the Jewish cast of nose, the long black hair, the figure 
dwindling away down to "almost immaterial legs," the 
tight-fitting clerk-like suit of black, terminating in gaiters 
and straps, all these appear in Mr. Pulham's etching in 
such bold realism that the portrait might easily pass for 
a caricature, were it not confirmed in all its details 
by other authorities. Mr. Crossley recalls with perfect 
distinctness the aspect of Lamb as he sat at his desk in 
his room at the India House, looking the more diminutive 
for being perched upon a very high stool. His hair and 
complexion were so dark, that when looked at in combina- 
tion with the complete suit of solemn black, they suggested 
old Fuller's description of the negro, of which Lamb 
was so fond — an image "cut in ebony." He might have 
passed, Hood tells us, for a "Quaker in black." "He 
had a long melancholy face," says Mr. Procter, " with 
keen penetrating eyes." " There was altogether," Mr. 
Patmore says, " a Kabbinical look about Lamb's head 
which was at once striking and impressive." But the 
feature of his expression that all his friends dwell on 



with most loving emphasis is " the bland sweet smile, 
witli the touch of sadness in it;" and Mr. Patmore's 
description of the general impression produced by 
this countenance well sums up and confirms the testi- 
mony of all other friends : " In point of intellectual 
character and expression, a finer face was never seen, nor 
one more fully, however vaguely corresponding with the 
mind whose features it interpreted. There was the gravity 
usually engendered by a life passed in book learning, 
without the slightest tinge of that assumption and affec- 
tation which almost always attend the gravity so engen- 
dered ; the intensity and elevation of general expression 
that mark high genius, without any of its pretension and 
its oddity ; the sadness waiting on fruitless thoughts and 
baffled aspirations, but no evidence of that spirit of scorn- 
ing and contempt which these are apt to engender. Above 
all there was a pervading sweetness and gentleness which 
went straight to the heart of every one who looked on it : 
and not the less so, perhaps, that it bore about it an air, a 
something, seeming to tell that it was — not £>ut on — for 
nothing would be more unjust than to tax Lamb with 
assuming anything, even a virtue, which he did not possess 
— but preserved and persevered in, spite of opposing and 
contradictory feelings within that struggled in vain for 
mastery. It was a thing to remind you of that painful 
smile which bodily disease and agony will sometimes put 
on, to conceal their sufferings from the observation of those 
they love." 

We know Charles Lamb's history, and have not to ask 
for any explanation of the appearances thus described. He 
had always (it must not be forgotten) to contend against 
sad memories, and anticipations of further sorrow. 1 [e was 
by nature" terribly shy," and his difiiculties of speech, and 




possibly a consciousness of oddity of manner and appear- 
ance, aggravated this diffidence. It was " terrible " to him 
— as he confessed to Mr. Procter one morning when they 
were going together to breakfast with Rogers — to undergo 
the scrutiny of servants. Hence only at times, and in certain 
companies, was he entirely at his ease ; and it is evident 
that when in the society of those in sympathy with him 
and his tastes, he conveyed an entirely different impression 
of himself from that left under the opposite circumstances. 
Before strangers, or uncongenial acquaintance, he was un- 
comfortable, and if not actually silent, generally indulged 
in some line of conversation or vein of sentiment foreign 
to his own real nature. Like most men, Charles Lamb 
had various oddnesses, contradictions, perversenesses of 
temper, and unless he was in company of those who 
loved him (and who he knew loved him), and under- 
stood him, he was very prone, in a spirit of what 
children call ' 1 contrariness," to set to work to alienate 
them still more from any possibility of sympathy with 
him. Something of this must of course be laid to 
the account of the extra glass of wine or spirits that so 
often determined his mood for the evening, only that when 
Procter, or Talfourd, or Coleridge, or Hazlitt were round 
his hospitable table, this stimulus served but to set free 
the richer and more generous springs of thought and fancy 
within him. I have the authority of Mr. Crossley for 
saying that on one evening when in manner, speech, and 
walk, Lamb was obviously under the influence of what he 
had drunk, he discoursed at length upon Milton, with a 
fulness of knowledge, an eloquence, and a profundity 
of critical power, which left an impression upon Mr. 
Crossley, never to be effaced. But we know that the 
wine was not in this case the good, any more than on 


other occasions it was the evil, influence. " It created 
nothing," says Mr. Patmore, "but it was the talisman 
that not only unlocked the poor casket in which the rich 
thoughts of Charles Lamb were shut up, but set in motion 
that machinery in the absence of which they would have 
lain like gems in the mountain or gold in the mine." 
But where the society was unsympathetic, the wine often 
set free less lovable springs of fancy in Charles Lamb. 
He would take up a perverse attitude of contradiction, with 
too slight regard for the courtesies of human intercourse, 
or else give play to a mere spirit of reckless and not very 
edifying mockery. The same enthusiastic friend and 
admirer just quoted is obliged to admit that " to those 
who did not know him, or knoAving, did not and could 
not appreciate him, Lamb often passed for something 
between an imbecile, a brute, and a buffoon ; and the first 
impression he made on ordinary people was always un- 
favourable, sometimes to a violent and repulsive degree." 
Many persons have of late been startled by the discovery 
that Lamb sometimes left the same impression upon people 
the reverse of ordinary. Nothing perhaps in the Reminis- 
cences of Thomas Carlyle has provoked so much surprise, 
and hurt so many feelings, as his passing criticism upon 
Lamb. And yet it is entirely supported and explained 
by Mr. Patmore's observation. No two persons could 
have been more antipathetic than Lamb and Carlyle, and 
nothing therefore is less surprising than that to the 
author of the Latter- Day Pamphlets Charles and his sister 
should have appeared two very " sorry phenomena," or that 
the scraps of Lamb's talk which he overheard during a pass- 
ing call should often have seemed " contemptibly small," 
" ghastly make-believe of wit," and the rest. There is no 
need to question the substantial justice of this report It 




is only too probable that the presence of the austere and 
dyspeptic Scotchman (one of that nation Lamb had 
all his days been trying in vain to like) made him 
more than usually disposed to produce his entire stock of 
frivolity. He had a perverse delight in shocking uncon- 
genial society. Another noticeable person — very different 
in all respects from Carlyle — has left a record, significant 
by its very brevity, of his single interview with Lamb. 
Macready tells in his diary how he was asked to meet him at 
Talfourd's, and this is what he records of the interview : 
" I noted one odd saying of Lamb's, that ' the last breath 
he drew in he wished might be through a pipe, and ex- 
haled in a pun.' " Lamb may have discovered at a glance 
that he and the great tragedian were not likely to take the 
same views of men and things. Perhaps his love both 
for joking and smoking had struck Macready the reverse 
of favourabty, and if so, it was quite in Lamb's way to 
clench once for all the unfavourable impression by such an 
" odd saying " as that just quoted. 

Charles Lamb has drawn for us a character of himself, but, 
so fond was he of hoaxes and mystifications of this kind, 
that we might have hesitated to accept it as faithful, were 
it not in such precise accord with the testimony of others 
already cited. The second series of the Essays of Elia 
was introduced by a Preface, purporting to be written " by 
a friend of the late Elia," but of course from Charles's own 
hand. In this preface he assumes Elia to have actually 
died, and after some preliminary remarks on his writings 
thus proceeds to describe his character and manners : — 

My late friend was in many respects a singular character. 
Those who did not like him, hated him ; and some, who once 
liked him, afterwards became his bitterest haters. The truth 
is, he gave himself too little concern what he uttered, and in 


whose presence. He observed neither time nor place, and 
would e'en out with what came uppermost, With the severe 
religionist he would pass for a free-thinker ; while the other 
faction set him down for a bigot, or persuaded themselves that 
he belied his sentiments. Few understood him, and I am not 
oertUB that at all times he quite understood himself. He too 
much affected that dangerous figure — irony. He sowed doubt- 
ful speeches, and reaped plain, unequivocal hatred. He would 
interrupt the gravest discussion with some light jest; and yet, 
perhaps, not quite irrelevant in ears that could understand it. 
Your long and much talkers hated him. The informal habit of 
his mind, joined to an inveterate impediment of speech, forbade 
him to be an orator; and he seemed determined that no one else 
should play that part when he was present. He was petit and 
ordinary in his person and appearance. I have seen him some- 
times in what is called good company, but where he has been a 
stranger, sit silent and be suspected for an odd fellow; till some 
unlucky occasion provoking it, he would stutter out some sense- 
less pun (not altogether senseless, perhaps, if rightly taken) 
which has stamped his character for the evening. It was hit or 
miss with him ; but nine times out of ten he contrived by this 
device to send away a whole company his enemies. His con- 
ceptions rose kindlier than his utterance, and his happiest im- 
promptus had the appearance of effort. He has been accused of 
trying to be witty, when in truth he was but struggling to give 
his poor thoughts articulation. He chose his companions for 
some individuality of character which they manifested. Hence 
not many persons of science, and few professed literati, were of 
his councils. They were, for the most part, persons of an un- 
certain fortune ; and as to such people commonly nothing is 
more obnoxious than a gentleman of settled (though moderate) 
income, he passed with most of them for a great miser. To my 
knowledge this was a mistake. His intimados, to confess a truth, 
were in the world's eye a ragged regiment. He found them 
floating on the surface of society ; and the colour, or something 
else, in the weed pleased him. The burrs stuck to him ; but 
they were good and loving burrs for all that He never greatly 





cared for the society of what are called good people. If any of 
these were scandalized (and offences were sure to arise) he could 
not help it. When he has been remonstrated with for not 
making more concessions to the feelings of good people, he 
would retort by asking what one point did these good people 
ever concede to him ? He was temperate in his meals and 
diversions, but always kept a little on this side of abstemious- 
ness. Only in the use of the Indian weed he might be thought 
a little excessive. He took it, he would say, as a solvent 
of speech. Marry — as the friendly vapour asceuded, how his 
prattle would curl up sometimes with it ! the ligaments which 
tongue-tied him were loosened, and the stammerer proceeded a 
statist ! 

When a man's account of himself — his foibles and 
eccentricities —is confirmed in minutest detail by those 
who knew and loved him best, it is reasonable to conclude 
that we are not far wrong in accepting it, and this self- 
portraiture of Lamb's gives an unexpected plausibility to 
the judgments, which otherwise have a harsh sound, of 
Mr. Patmore and Carlyle. The peculiarities which Lamb 
here enumerates are just those which are little likely 
ever to receive gentle consideration from the world. 

Lamb's mention of the "senseless pun" which often 
" stamped his character for the evening," suggests oppor- 
tunely the subject of his reputation as a humourist and 
wit. This habit of playing upon words was a part of 
him through life, and as in the case of most who indulge 
in it, became an outlet for whatever mood was for the 
moment dominant in Charles Lamb's mind. When he 
was ill at ease, and in an attitude (as he often was) of 
antagonism to his company, it would take the shape of a 
wanton interruption of the argument under discussion. 
To use a simile of Mr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, it was the 
halfpenny laid upon the line by a mischievous boy to 



upset a whole train of cars. When ho was annoyed, he 
made annoying puns, — when ho was frivolous, he made 
frivolous puns, but when he was in the cue, and his 
surroundings were such as to call forth his better powers, 
ho put into this form of wit, humour and imagination of 
a high order. Samples of all these kinds have been pre- 
served, and are not without use as showing the various 
moods of his many-sided nature, but it is pitiable to read 
long strings of them, set down without any discrimination, 
and to be asked to accept them as specimens of Lamb's 
" wit and humour." Many of his jests thus handed down 
are little more than amusing evidence of a restless levity, 
and almost petulant impatience of the restraints of serious 
discourse. Much of his conversational humour took the 
form of retort — courteous, or the reverse. Sometimes these 
embodied a criticism so luminous or acute that they have 
survived, not only for their drollery, or even their severity. 
" Charles, did you ever hear me preach 1 " asked Coleridge, 
referring to the days of his Unitarian ministry. " I never 
heard you do anything else," was the reply. When 
Wordsworth was discussing with him the degree of 
originality to be allowed to Shakespeare, as borrowing 
his plots from sources ready to his hand, and was even 
hinting that other poets, with the History of Hamblet be- 
fore them, might have been equally successful in adapting 
it to the stage, Charles cried out, " Oh ! here's Wordsworth 
says he could have written Hamlet, if he'd had the mind. 1 " 
In both these cases the retort embodies a felicitous judg- 
ment. A foible — if in either case it is to be called a foible — 
in the character of the two poets, respectively, flashes out 
into sudden light. The pun is more than a pun ; the wit 
is more than wit ; it is a sudden glory of truth kindled by 
the imagination. Lamb's wide reading and memory give 




a peculiar flavour to much of his wit. He had a way 
of applying quotations which is all his own. When Crabb 
Robinson, then a new-fledged barrister, told him of his 
sensations on getting his first brief in the King's Bench, 
" I suppose," said Charles, " you said to it, ' Thou great 
First Cause, least understood.' " Somebody remarking on 
Shakespeare's anachronisms — clocks and watches in Julius 
Ccesar, oracles of Delphi in the Winter's Tale — he said he 
supposed that was what Dr. Johnson meant when he 
wrote of him that " panting Time toiled after him in vain." 
Hood records a visit paid by him to the Lambs when 
they were living at Islington, with a wasp's nest near their 
front door. " He was one day bantering my wife on her 
dread of wasps, when all at once he uttered a terrible 
shout — a wounded specimen of the species had slily 
crawled up the leg of the table, and stung him in the 
thumb. I told him it was a refutation well put in, like 
Smollett's timely snowball. ' Yes,' said he, 1 and a sting- 
ing commentary on Macbeth, — 

By the pricking of my thumbs, 
Something wicked this way comes. 5 ' 

Readers of the Essays of Mia will recall many happy 
effects produced by this novel use of familiar quotations. 
Not that he ever condescended to degrade a really fine 
passage by any vulgar associations. JSTo great harm was 
done (in the " Essay on Roast Pig ") by calling in his 
friend's (i Epitaph on an infant " to justify the sacrifice of 
the innocent suckling, before it should " grow up to the 
grossness and indocility which too often accompany maturer 
swinehood, — 

Ere sin could blight or sorrow fade 
Death came with timely care." 




And, now and then, with the true instinct of a poet, he 
throws a new and lasting halo over a homely object by 
associating it with one more poetic and dignified, as when 
in the " Praise of Chimney-sweepers " he notes the 
brilliant white of the little climbing- boys' teeth peering 
from between their sooty lips — " It is," he adds — 

" as when a sable cloud 
Turns forth her silver lining on the night," 

an application of Milton which is only not witty, (to 
borrow Sydney Smith's skilful distinction) because the 
enjoyment of its wit is overpowered by our admiration of 
its beauty. 

"Specimens of wit and humour" afford, under the 
happiest conditions, but melancholy reading, and none 
can less well afford to be separated from their context than 
those of Lamb. And in his case the context is not merely 
that of the written or spoken matter, but that of the man 
himself — his look, manner, and habits. To understand 
how his drollery affected those who were present, and 
made them anxious to preserve some record of it, it is 
necessary to keep in mind how he looked and spoke, his 
odd face, his stammer, and his wilfulness in the presence 
of uncongenial natures. There is a diverting scene 
recorded in the diary of Haydon, the painter, which, how- 
ever amplified by Haydon's facile pen, seems to bring * 
before us " an evening with Charles Lamb " with more 
reality than the general recollections of Talfourd and 
Procter. Something of the " diluted insanity" that so 
shocked Mr. Carlyle is here shadowed forth. Haydon 
had got up a little dinner, on occasion of Wordsworth 
being in town (December, 1817), and Lamb and Keats 
were of the party. The account must bo given in his own 
words : — 




On December 28th the immortal dinner came off in my 
painting-room, with Jerusalem towering urj behind us as a back- 
ground. Wordsworth was in fine cue, and we had a glorious 
set-to — on Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Virgil. Lamb got 
exceedingly merry, and exquisitely witty ; and his fun, in the 
midst of Wordsworth's solemn intonations of oratory, was like 
the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the intervals of Lear's 
passion. He made a speech and voted me absent, and made 
them drink my health. " Now," said Lamb, " you old lake poet, 
you rascally poet, why do you call Voltaire dull ? " We all defended 
Wordsworth, and affirmed there was a state of mind when Vol- 
taire would be dull. " Well," said Lamb, " here's Voltaire — the 
Messiah of the French nation — and a very proper one too." 

He then in a strain of humour beyond description abused me 
for putting Newton's head into my picture — " a fellow," said he, 
" who believed nothing unless it was as clear as the three sides 
of a triangle. " And then he and Keats agreed that he had 
destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow, by reducing it to the 
prismatic colours. It was impossible to resist him, and we all 
drank " Newton's health, and confusion to mathematics." It 
was delightful to see the good humour of Wordsworth in giving 
in to all our frolics without affectation, and laughing as heartily 
as the best of us. 

By this time other friends joined, amongst them poor Eitchie, 
who was going to penetrate by Fezzan to Timbuctoo. I intro- 
duced him to all as " a gentleman going to Africa." Lamb 
seemed to take no notice ; but all of a sudden he roared out 
" Which is the gentleman we are going to lose ? " We then 
drank the victim's health, in which Eitchie joined. 

In the morning of this delightful day, a gentleman, a perfect 
stranger, had called on me. He said he knew my friends, had 
an enthusiasm for Wordsworth, and begged I would procure him 
the happiness of an introduction. He told me he was a Comp- 
troller of Stamps, and often had correspondence with the poet. 
I thought it a liberty ; but still, as he seemed a gentleman, I 
told him he might come. 

When we retired to tea we found the Comptroller. In intro- 



during him to Wordsworth I forgot to say who he was. After 
a little time the Comptroller looked down, looked up, and said to 
Wordsworth, "Don't you think, sir, Milton was a great genius?" 
Keats looked at me, Wordsworth looked at the Comptroller. 
Lamb, who was dozing by the fire, turned round and said, 
" Pray, sir, did you say Milton was a great genius ? " " No, sir, 
I asked Mr. Wordsworth if he were not." " Oh," said Lamb, 
" then you are a silly fellow." " Charles ! my dear Charles ! " 
said Wordsworth ; but Lamb, perfectly innocent of the con- 
fusion he had created, was off again by the fire. 

After an awful pause the Comptroller said, " Don't you think 
Newton a great genius ? " I could not stand it any longer. 
Keats put his head into my books. Ritchie squeezed in a laugh. 
Wordsworth seemed asking himself, " Who is this ? " Lamb 
got up and taking a candle, said, " Sir, will you allow me to 
look at your phrenological development ? " He then turned his 
back on the poor man, and at every question of the Comptroller 
he chanted— 

" Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John 
Went to bed with his breeches on." 

The man in office finding Wordsworth did not know who he 
was, said in a spasmodic and half-chucking anticipation of 
assured victory, " I have had the honour of some correspondence 
with you, Mr Wordsworth." " With me, sir ? " said Wordsworth, 
" not that I remember." " Don't you, sir ? I am a Comptroller 
of Stamps.'' There was a dead, silence; the Comptroller evidently 
thinking that was enough. While we were waiting for Words- 
worth's reply, Lamb sung out — 

" Hey diddle diddle, 
The cat and the fiddle." 

" My dear Charles ! " said Wordsworth. 

" Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John," 

chanted Lamb ; and then rising, exclaimed, " Do let me have 




another look at that gentleman's organs." Keats and I hurried 
Lamb into the painting-room, shut the door, and gave way to 
inextinguishable laughter. Monkhouse followed and tried to 
get Lamb away. We went back, but the Comptroller was irre- 
concilable. We soothed and smiled, and asked him to supper. 
He stayed, though his dignity was sorely affected. However, 
being a good-natured man, we parted all in good humour, and 
no ill effects followed. 

All the while, until Monkhouse succeeded, we could hear 
Lamb struggling in the painting-room and calling at intervals, 
" Who is that fellow? Allow me to see his organs once more." 

It is not difficult to guess how Carlyle or Macready 
would have commented on this scene, had they been 

But the Wednesday evenings when Charles and Mary 
Lamb kept open house — if the term could be applied to 
the slender resources of the garret in Inner Temple Lane — 
produced something better in the way of intellectual result 
than the above. Talfourd and Procter have told us the 
names and qualities of the guests who gathered about the 
Lambs on these occasions, and the homely fare and the 
cordial greeting that awaited them — the low, dingy rooms, 
with books and prints for their chief furniture, the two 
tables set out for whist, and the cold beef and can of 
porter on the sideboard, to which each guest helped him- 
self as he chose. On these occasions would be found 
Wordsworth and Coleridge when in town, and then the 
company resolved themselves willingly into a band of 
contented listeners; but at other times no difference of 
rank would be recognized, and poets and critics, painters, 
journalists, barristers, men in public offices, dramatists, and 
actors met on terms of unchallenged equality. Hazlitt 
has made an attempt, in a well-known essay, to reproduce 



an actual conversation at which he was present on one of 
these Wednesdays. He admits that, writing twenty years 
after the event, memory was ill able to recall the actual 
words of the speakers. But even when allowance is made 
for the lapse of time, it is hard to believe that Hazlitt had 
much of the Boswellian faculty. The subject that had 
been discussed was " Persons one would wish to have 
seen." Isaac Newton and Locke, Shakespeare and 
Milton, and many others were suggested, and all dis- 
missed for one reason or another by Lamb. Sir Thomas 
Browne and Fulke Greville were two he substituted for 
these. But it is impossible to accept the following sentence 
as a sample of Lamb's conversational manner. "When 
I look at that obscure but gorgeous prose composition, the 
Urn Burial, I seem to myself to look into a deep abyss, 
at the bottom of which are hid pearls and rich treasure ; 
or, it is like a stately labyrinth of doubt and withering 
speculation, and I would invoke the spirit of the author 
to lead me through it." This style is equally unlike that 
of essay and letter, and nothing so pointless and so gran- 
diose, we are sure, ever proceeded from his lips. It was 
not so that Lamb, as Haydon expressed it, " stuttered out 
his quaintness in snatches, like the Fool in Lear." But 
we can distinguish that stammering tongue, if we listen, 
above the din of the supper party and the whist-table — {not 
rigorous as Mrs. Battle's) — ranging from the maddest 
drollery to the subtlest criticism, calling out to Martin 
Burney, " Martin, if dirt were trumps, what a hand you'd 
have," — or declaring that he had once known a young man 
who " wanted to be a tailor, but hadn't the spirit," — or 
pronouncing, a, propos of the water-cure, that it was 
neither new nor wonderful, for that it was at least as old 
as the Flood, when, "in his opinion," it killed more than 




it cured. We can hear him drawing some sound dis- 
tinction, as between the ingrained jealousy of Leontes and 
the mere credulity of Othello, or contrasting the noble 
simplicity of the Nut-Brown Maid with Prior's vapid para- 
phrase, in Henry and Emma. We can listen to him as 
he fearlessly decried all his friends' idols of the hour, 
Byron or Shelley or Goethe, and raved with something of 
a perverse enthusiasm over some forgotten worthy of the 
sixteenth century. We can hear him pleading for the 
" divine compliments " of Pope, and repeating with a falter- 
ing voice, the well-known lines — 

Happy my studies, when by these approved ! 
Happier their author, when by these beloved ! 
From these the world will judge of men and books 
Not from the Burnets, Oldmixons, and Cookes. 

It was this range of sympathy, yet coupled with such 
strange limitations — this alternation of tenderness and 
frolic — of scholarly fulness and luminous insight, that 
drew the poet and the critic, as well as the boon com- 
panion, to Lamb's Wednesday nights. 

Lamb's letters at this time afford excellent specimens of 
his drollery and high animal spirits. The following was 
addressed to Manning early in 1810. Manning was then 
in China. 

Dear Manning.— When I last wrote you I was in lodgings. 
I am now in chambers, No. 4, Inner Temple Lane, where I 
should be happy to see you any evening. Bring any of your 
friends, the mandarins, with you. I have two sitting-rooms ; I 
call them so par excellence, for you may stand, or loll, or lean, 
or try any posture in them, but they are best for sitting ; not 
squatting down Japanese fashion, but the more decorous mode 
which European usage has consecrated. I have two of these 



rooms on the third floor, and five sleeping, cooking, &c, rooms 
on the fourth floor. In my best room is a choice collection of 
the works of Hogarth, an English painter of some humour. In 
my next best are shelves, containing a small but well-chosen 
library. My best room commands a court in which there are 
trees and a pump, the water of which is excellent cold, with 
brandy, and not very insipid without. Here I hope to set up my 
rest, and not quit till Mr. Powell, the undertaker, gives me notice 
that I may have possession of my last lodging. He lets lodgings 
for single gentlemen. I sent you a parcel of books by my last, to 
give you some idea of the state of European literature. There comes 
with this two volumes, done up as letters, of minor poetry, a sequel 
to Mrs. Leicester ; the best you may suppose mine ; the next 
best are my coadjutor's ; you may amuse yourself in guessing 
them out ; but I must tell you mine are but one-third in quantity 
of the whole. So much for a very delicate subject. It is hard 
to speak of one's own self, &c. Holcroft had finished his life 
when I wrote to you, and Hazlitt has since finished his life : I 
do not mean his own life, but he has finished a life of Holcroft, 
which is going to press. Tuthill is Dr. Tuthill ; I continue 
Mr. Lamb. I have published a little book for children on titles 
of honour ; and to give them some idea of the difference of 
rank and gradual rising I have made a little scale, supposing 
myself to receive the following various accessions of dignity from 
the king, who is the fountain of honour. As at first, 1, Mr. 0. 
Lamb ; 2, C. Lamb, Esq. ; 3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart. ; 4, Baron 
Lamb of Stamford 1 ; 5, Viscount Lamb ; 6, Earl Lamb ; 7, 
Marquis Lamb ; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like quibbling 
to carry it on further, and especially as it is not necessary for 
children to go beyond the ordinary titles of sub-regal dignity in 
our own country ; otherwise, I have sometimes in my dreams 
imagined myself still advancing — as 9th, King Lamb ; 10th, 
Emperor Lamb ; 11th, Pope Innocent, higher than which is 
nothing. Puns I have not made many (nor punch much) since 

1 Where my family came from. I have chosen that, if ever I 
should have my choice. 




the date of my last ; one I cannot help relating. A constable 
in Salisbury Cathedral was telling me that eight people dined at 
the top of the spire of the cathedral, upon which I remarked 
that they must be very sharp set. But in general, I cultivate 
the reasoning part of my mind more than the imaginative. I 
am stuffed out so with eating turkey for dinner and another 
turkey for supper yesterday (Turkey in Europe and Turkey in 
Asia), that I can't jog on. It is New Year here. That is, it 
was New Year half a year back when I was writing this. 
Nothing puzzles me more than time and space, and yet nothing 
puzzles me less, for I never think about them. The Persian 
ambassador is the principal thing talked of now. I sent some 
people to see him worship the sun on Primrose Hill, at half- 
past six in the morning, 28th November; but he did not come, 
which makes me think the old fire- worshippers are a sect almost 
extinct in Persia. The Persian ambassador's name is Shaw 
Ali Mirza. The common people call him Shaw nonsense. 
While I think of it, I have put three letters besides my own 
three into the India post for you, from your brother, sister, and 
some gentleman whose name I forget. Will they, have they, 
did they come safe ? The distance you are at cuts up tenses by the 
root. I think you said you did not know Kate 
I express her by nine stars, though she is but one. You must 
have seen her at her father's. Try and remember her. Cole- 
ridge is bringing out a paper in weekly numbers, called the 
Friend, which I would send if I could ; but the difficulty I had 
in getting the packets of books out to you before deters me ; 
and you'll want something new to read when you come home. 
Except Kate, I have had no vision of excellence this vear, and 
she passed by like the queen on her coronation day ; you don't 
know whether you saw her or not. Kate is fifteen ; I go about 
moping, and sing the old pathetic ballad I used to like in my 
youth — 

She's sweet fifteen, 
I'm one year more. 

Mrs. Bland sang it in boy's clothes the first time I heard it. I 



sometimes think the lower notes in my voice are like Mrs. 
Bland's. That glorious singer, Braham, one of my lights, is 
fled. He was for a season. He was a rare composition of the 
Jew, the gentleman, and the angel ; yet all these elements mixed 
up so kindly in him that you could not tell which preponderated ; 
but he is gone, and one Phillips is engaged instead. Kate is 
vanished, but Miss B is always to be met with ! 

Queens drop away, while blue-legged maukin thrives, 
And courtly Mildred dies while country Madge survives. 

That is not my poetry, but Quarles' ; but haven't you observed 
that the rarest things are the least obvious ? Don't show any- 
body the names in this letter. I write confidentially, and wish 
this letter to be considered as private. Hazlitt has written a 
grammar for Godwin ; Godwin sells it bound up with a treatise 
of his own on language, but the grey mare is the better horse. 

I don't allude to Mrs. , but to the word grammar, which 

comes near to grey mare, if you observe, in sound. That figure 
is called paranomasia in Greek. I am sometimes happy in it. 
An old woman begged of me for charity. " Ah ! sir," said she, 
" I have seen better days." "So have I, good woman," I replied; 
but I meant literally, days not so rainy and overcast as that on 
which she begged ; she meant more prosperous days. Mr. Dawe 
is made Associate of the Royal Academy. By what law of 
association I can't guess. 

The humour of this letter — and there are many as good 
— is not the humour of the Essays of Mia. It is not 
charged with thought like them, nor does it reach the 
same depths of feeling. But it is the humour of a man 
of genius. The inventiveness of it all ; the simplicity 
with which the most daring flights of fancy are hazarded ; 
the amazing improbability of the assertion that it was the 
" common people " who called the ambassador " Shaw 
nonsense the gravity with which it is set down that it is 
not necessary in England to teach children the degrees 




of rank beyond royalty, — all this is delightful in the 
extreme, and the power to enjoy it may be taken as a test 
of the reader's capacity for understanding Lamb's place as 
a humorist. 

The eight years spent in Inner Temple Lane were, in 
Talfourd's judgment, the happiest of Lamb's life. His income 
was steadily rising, and he no longer had to bear the pressure 
of inconvenient poverty. Friends of a higher order than the 
" friendly harpies " he has told us of, who cafhe about him 
for his suppers, and the brandy-and- water afterwards, were 
gradually gathering round him. Hazlitt, and Crabb 
Kobinson, and Procter, and Talfouid were men of tastes 
and capacities akin to his own. The period was not a 
fertile one in literary production. The little collection of 
stories for children, called Mrs. Leicester's School, written 
jointly with his sister, and the volume of Poetry for 
Children, also a joint production, constitute — with one 
notable exception — the whole of Lamb's literary labours 
during this time. The exception named is the contribu- 
tion to Leigh Hunt's periodical, the Reflector, of two or 
three masterly pieces of criticism, which may be more 
conveniently noticed later in this memoir. 

Meantime the cloud of domestic anxiety was still 
unlifted. Mary Lamb's illnesses were frequent and em- 
barrassing. An extract from a letter to Miss Hutchinson, 
Mrs. Wordsworth's sister (October, 1815), tells once more 
the often-told tale, and shows the unaltered patience and 
seriousness of her brother's faithful guardianship. The 
passage has a further interest in the picture it incidentally 
draws of the happier days of the brother and sister : — 
"lam forced to be the replier to your letter, for Mary has 
been ill, and gone from home these five weeks yesterday. 
She has left me very lonely and very miserable. I stroll 



abont, but there is no rest but at one's own fireside, and 
there is no rest for mo there now. I look forward to the 
worse half being past, and keep up as well as I can. She 
has begun to show some favourable symptoms. The 
return of her disorder has been frightfully soon this time, 
with scarce a six months' interval. I am almost afraid 
my worry of spirits about the East India House was partly 
the cause of her illness, but one always imputes it to the 
cause next at hand ; more probably it comes from some 
cause we have no control over or conjecture of. It cuts 
great slices out of the time, the little time, we shall have to 
live together. I don't know but the recurrence of these 
illnesses might help me to sustain her death better than if 
we had no partial separations. But I won't talk of death. 
I will imagine us immortal, or forget that we are other- 
wise. By God's blessing, in a few weeks we may be 
making our meal together, or sitting in the front row of 
the Pit at Drury Lane, or taking our evening walk past the 
theatres, to look at the outside of them, at least, if not to 
be tempted in. Then we forget that we are assailable ; we 
are strong for the time as rocks ; — ' the wind is tempered to 
the shorn Lambs.' " 




In the autumn of 1817, Lamb and his sister left the 
Temple, their home for seventeen years, for lodgings in 
Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, the corner of Bow 
Street, and the site where Will's Coffee-House once stood. . 
" Here we are," Lamb writes to Miss Wordsworth in 
November of this year, " transplanted from our native 
soil. I thought we never could have been torn up from 
the Temple. Indeed it was an ugly wrench, but like a 
tooth, now 'tis out, and I am easy. We never can strike 
root so deep in any other ground. This, where we are, is 
a light bit of gardener's mould, and if they take us up from 
it, it will cost no blood and groans, like mandrakes pulled 
up. We are in the individual spot I like best in all this 
great city. The theatres with all their noises ; Covent 
Garden, dearer to me than any gardens of Alcinous, 
where we are morally sure of the earliest peas and 
'sparagus. Bow Street, where the thieves are examined 
within a few yards of us. Mary had not been here four- 
and-twenty hours before she saw a thief. She sits at the 
window working ; and casually throwing out her eyes, she 
sees a concourse of people coming this way, with a con- 


stable to conduct the solemnity. These little incidents 
agreeably diversify a female life." 

During the seventeen years in the Temple, Lamb's 
worldly fortunes had improved. His salary from the 
India House was increasing every year, and he was be- 
ginning to add to his income by authorship. He was 
already known as critic and essayist to an appreciative 
few. Friends were gathering round him, and acquaintances 
who enjoyed his conversation and his weekly suppers 
(Wednesday evening was open house in the Temple days) 
were increasing in rather an embarrassing degree. Ever 
since he had had a house of his own, he had suffered from 
the intrusion of such troublesome visitors. A too easy good- 
nature on his part may have been to blame for this. He 
took often, as he confesses, a perverse pleasure in noticing 
and befriending those whom others, with good reason, 
looked shyly on, and as time went on he began to find 
very little of his leisure time that he could call his own. 
It may have been with some hope of beginning a freer 
life on new soil that he resolved to tear himself from his 
beloved Temple. If so he was not successful. A re- 
markable letter to Mrs. Wordsworth, a few months only 
after his removal to Russell Street, tells the same old 
story of well-meaning intruders. "The reason why I 
cannot write letters at home is that I am never alone." 
" Except my morning's walk to the office, which is like 
treading on sands of gold for that reason, I am never so. 
I cannot walk home from office, but some officious friend 
offers his unwelcome courtesies to accompany me. All the 
morning I am pestered. Evening company I should always 
like, had I any mornings, but I am saturated with human 
faces (divine forsooth), and voices all the golden morning ; 
and five evenings in a week would be as much as I should 





covet to "be in company, but I assure you that it is a won- 
derful week in which I can get two, or one to myself. I 
am never C. L. but always C. L. & Co. He, who thought 
it not good for man to be alone, preserve me from the 
more prodigious monstrosity of being never by myself." 
"All I mean is that I am a little over-companied, but 
not that I have any animosity against the good creatures 
that are so anxious to drive away the harpy solitude from 
me. I like 'em, and cards, and a cheerful glass ; but I 
mean merely to give you an idea between office confinement 
and after-office society, how little time I can call my own." 
It is not difficult to form an idea from this frank dis- 
closure, of the hindrances and the snares that beset Lamb's 
comfort and acted harmfully on his temper and habits. 
It was fortunate for him that at this juncture he should 
have been led to discover where his powers as a writer 
indisputably lay, and to find the exact opportunity for their 

In this same year, 1818, a young bookseller, Charles 
Oilier, whose acquaintance lie had recently made, proposed 
to him to bring out a complete collection of his scattered 
writings. Some of these, John Woodvil and Rosamond 
Gray, had been published separately in former years, and 
were now out of print. Others were interred among extinct 
magazines and journals, and these were by far the most 
worthy of preservation. The edition appeared in the year 
1818, in two handsome volumes. It contained, besides 
John Woodvil and Rosamond Gray, and a fair quantity of 
verse (including the Farewell to Tobacco), the Recollec- 
tions of Christ's Hospital, the essay on The Tragedies of 
Shakespeare, considered with reference to their fitness for 
stage representation, and that on The Genius and Character 
of Hogarth, these two last having originally appeared in 


Leigh Hunt's magazine, the Reflector. The edition was pre- 
faced by a dedicatory letter to Coleridge. " You will smile," 
wrote Lamb, " to see the slender labours of your friend 
designated by the title of Works ; but such was the wish 
of the gentlemen who have kindly undertaken the trouble 
of collecting them, and from their judgment there could 
be no appeal." He goes on pleasantly to recall to his old 
schoolfellow how, in company with their friend Lloyd, 
they had so many years before tried their poetical fortune. 
" You will find your old associate," he adds, " in his second 
volume, dwindled into prose and criticism." Lamb 
must have felt, as he wrote the word, that " dwindled " 
was hardly the fitting term. He had written nothing 
as yet so noble in matter and in style, nothing so w r orthy 
to live, as the analysis of the characters of Hamlet and Lear 
in the essay on Shakespeare's Tragedies. Lamb's high rank, 
as essayist and critic, must have been put beyond dispute 
by the publication under his own name of his collected 
Works. He was already well known and appreciated by 
some of the finest minds of his day. He now addressed a 
wider public, and the edition of 1818 gave him a status he 
had not before enjoyed. And yet at this date, various as 
were the contents of the two volumes, he had not found 
the opportunity that was to call forth his special faculty. 

The opportunity was, however, at hand. In January 
1820, Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, the publishers, brought 
out the first number of a new monthly journal, reviving in 
it the name of an earlier, and extinct periodical, the London 
Magazine. The editor they chose was John Scott, a com- 
petent critic and journalist who had formerly edited the 
Champion newspaper. The aim of this new venture, as 
set forth in the opening prospectus, was to be of a higher 
and more intellectual class than its many popular contem- 




poraries. It was to be a journal of criticism and the 
Belles Lettres, including original poetry, and yet to contain 
in a monthly appendix such statistics of trade and general 
home and foreign intelligence as would make it useful to 
those of a less literary turn. The magazine had an existence 
of five years, undergoing many changes of fortune, and 
passing in that time through many hands. Its first 
editor, Mr. Scott, was killed in a duel in the summer of 
1821, and its first publishers parted with it to Taylor and 
Hessey. At no period of its career does it seem to have 
been a marked commercial success. Either capital was 
wanted, or management was unsatisfactory, for the list of 
contributors during these five years was remarkable. Mr. 
Procter and Hood have discoursed pleasantly on their 
various fellow- contributors to the magazine, and the social 
gatherings held once a month by Taylor and Hessey (who 
employed no editor) at the office in Waterloo Place. 
Hazlitt, Allan Cunningham, Cary (the translator of 
Dante), John Hamilton Reynolds, George Darley, 
Keats, James Montgomery, Sir John Bowring, Hartley 
Coleridge, were regular or occasional contributors. Carlyle 
published his Life and Writings of Schiller in the later 
volumes, and De Quincey (besides other papers) his Opium 

Talfourd thinks that Lamb owed to his intimacy with 
Hazlitt his introduction to the managers of the London. 
He was not on the staff from the beginning. The 
first number was issued in January 1820, and Lamb's 
first contribution was in the August following. In the 
number for that month appeared an article, with the not 
very attractive title, Recollections of the Soirfh-Sea House. 
As to its authorship there was no indication except the 
signature at the end — " Elia." Lamb has himself told us 




the origin of this immortal nom cle plume. When he had 
written his first essay, wishing to remain anonymous, and 
yet wanting a convenient mark for identification in articles 
to come, he bethought him of an Italian of the name of 
Elia, who had been fellow-clerk with him thirty years 
before, during the few months that he had been employed 
as a boy in the South-Sea House. As a practical joke 
(Lamb confesses) he borrowed his old friend's name, 
hoping to make his excuses when they should next meet. 
"I went the other day," writes Lamb in June 1821, 
" (not having seen him for a year) to laugh over with him 
at my usurpation of his name, and found him, alas ! no 
more than a name, for he died of consumption eleven 
months ago, and I knew not of it. So the name has 
fairly devolved to me, I think, and 'tis all he has left me. " 
Lamb continued to use it for his contributions to the 
London and other periodicals for many years. It is doubt- 
ful if the name has ever been generally pronounced as 
Lamb intended. " Call him Elba," he wrote to his pub- 
lisher, Mr. Taylor, but the world has taken more kindly to 
the broad e and the single 1. 

When the first series of the Essays of Elia. appeared in 
a collected form in 1823, it consisted of some five-and- 
twenty essays, contributed at the rate of one a month 
(occasionally two) with scarcely an intermission between 
August, 1820, and December, 1822. It would seem as if 
no conditions had been imposed upon Lamb by the editor 
as to the subject-matter of his essays. He was allowed to 
roam at his own free will over the experiences of his life, 
and to reproduce them in any form, and with any discur- 
siveness into which he might be allured on the way. The 
matter of the essays proved to bo largely personal, or at 
least to savour of the autobiographical. Tin- lirst essay 




already referred to professed to be a recollection of the 
South-Sea House as it existed thirty years before, with 
sketches of several of the clerks who had been 
Lamb's contemporaries. As, however, he was a boy of 
fifteen at the time he entered, and moreover was at most 
two years in the office, it is probable that he owed much of 
the knowledge exhibited iu the paper to his elder brother 
John, who remained in the office long after Charles had left 
it. Lamb was in the habit of spending his short summer 
holiday in one or other of the two great University towns, 
and his second essay was an account of Oxford in the Vaca- 
tion. The third in order of appearance was an account of 
Christ's Hospital, on that side, of it which had not been 
touched in his earlier paper on the same subject. The 
fourth was a discursive meditation on the Two Races of 
Men, by which Lamb meant those who borrow and those 
who lend, which he illustrated by the example of one 
Kalph Bigod (whom he had known in his journalist days 
on the Albion), and Coleridge, who so freely borrowed 
from Lamb's library, and so bountifully returned the 
loan with interest in the shape of marginal annotations. 
In the essay, Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist, he 
describes an old lady, a relative of the Plumer family, 
whom he had known in person, or by repute, at the old 
mansion in Hertfordshire. In the chapter On Ears, his 
own want of musical ear, and the kind of impressions 
from musical sounds to which he was susceptible, is the 
subject of his confidences. In My Relations, and Mack&ry 
End in Hertfordshire he draws portraits, under the dis- 
guise of two cousins, James and Bridget Elia, of his 
brother John and his sister Mary. The Old Benchers of 
the Inner Temple comprises all that he remembered of his 
boyhood spent in the Temple, with particulars of the 




more notable Masters of the Bench of that day, obtained 
no doubt from his father, the Level of the essay, and his 
father's old and loyal friend Eandal Norris, the sub- 
treasurer of the Inner Temple. Other essays, such as that 
On Chimney Sweepers, and The Decay of Beggars in the 
Metropolis, contain the results of that observing eye with 
which he had daily surveyed the streets of his beloved 
city for so many years, " looking no one in the face for 
more than a moment," as Mr. Procter has told us, yet 
"contriving to see everything as he went on." 

The opening essay on the South- Sea House shows that 
there was no need to feel his way, either in matter or 
style. He began in the fulness of his observation, and 
with a style already formed, and adapting itself to all 
changes of thought and feeling. His description of John 
Tipp, the accountant, was enough to show that not only a 
keen observer, but a master of English was at work : — 

At the desk, Tipp was quite another sort of creature. Thence 
all ideas that were purely ornamental were banished. You 
could not speak of anything romantic without rebuke. Politics 
were excluded. A newspaper was thought too refined and 
abstracted. The whole duty of man consisted in writing off' 
dividend warrants. The striking of the annual balance in the 
company's books (which perhaps differed from the balance of 
last year in the sum of 251. Is. 6d.) occupied his days and nights 
for a month previous. Not that Tipp was blind to the deadness 
of things (as they call them in the city) in his beloved house, or 
did not sigh for a return of the old stirring days when South' 
Sea hopes were young (he was indeed equal to the wielding ol 
any the most intricate accounts of the most flourishing oompany 
in these or those days) : but to a genuine accountant the differ- 
ence of proceeds is as nothing. The fractional farthing is as dear 
to his heart as the thousands which stand before it. He is the 
true actor who, whether his part be a prince or a peasant, must 




act it with like intensity. With Tipp, form was everything. 
His life was formal. His actions seemed ruled with a ruler. 
His pen was not less erring than his heart. He made the hest 
executor in the world ; he was plagued with incessant executor- 
ships accordingly, which excited his spleen and soothed his 
vanity in equal ratios. He would swear (for Tipp swore) at the 
little orphans, whose rights he would guard with a tenacity like 
the grasp of the dying hand that commended their interests to 
his protection. With all this there was about him a sort of 
timidity — his few enemies used to give it a worse name — a 
something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you 
please, a little on this side of the heroic. Nature certainly had 
been pleased to endow John Tipp with a sufficient measure of the 
principle of self-preservation. There is a cowardice which we do 
not despise, because it has nothing base or treacherous in its 
elements ; it betrays itself, not you ; it is mere temperament ; 
the absence of the romantic and the enterprising ; it sees a lion 
in the way, and will not, with Fortinbras, " greatly find quarrel 
in a straw," when some supposed honour is at stake. Tipp never 
mounted the box of a stage coach in his life, or leaned against 
the rails of a balcony, or walked upon the ridge of a parapet, or 
looked down a precipice, or let off a gun, or went upon a water- 
party, or would willingly let you go if he could have helped it ; 
neither was it recorded of him that for lucre, or for intimidation, 
he ever forsook friend or principle. 

Two of the essays have attained a celebrity, certainly 
not out of proportion to their merits, but serving to make 
quotation from them almost an impertinence. These are 
the Dissertation on Roast Pig, Lamb's version of a story 
told him by his friend Manning (though not probably 
to be found in any Chinese manuscript), and the essay, 
finally called Imperfect Sympathies, but originally bearing 
the cumbrous title of Jews, Quakers, Scotchmen, and other 
Imperfect Sympathies. It is here that occurs the famous 
analysis of the Scotch character, perhaps the cleverest 




passage, in its union of fine observation and felicity of 
phrase, in the whole of Lamb's writings. The anecdote of 
Lamb's favourite picture, — his "beauty," — the Lionardo da 
Vinci, and that of the party where the son of Burns was 
expected, together with the complaint that follows of the 
hopelessness of satisfying a Scotchman in the matter of 
the appreciation of that poet, have become as much 
commonplaces of quotation as Sydney Smith's famous 
reference to the surgical operation. The brilliancy of the 
whole passage has rather thrown into the shade the dis- 
quisition on Quaker manners that follows, and the story 
he had heard from Carlisle, the surgeon, of the three 
Quakers who " stopped to bait" at Andover. But the 
whole paper is excellent. 

Hardly less familiar is the account of old Mrs. Battle, 
and her opinions upon the game of whist. " ' A clear fire, 
a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game.' This was the 
celebrated wish of old Sarah Battle (now with God) who next 
to her devotions loved a good game at whist. She was none 
of your lukewarm gamesters, your half and half players, who 
have no objection to take a hand if you want one to make 
up a rubber \ who affirm that they have no pleasure in 
winning, that they like to win one game and lose another, 
that they can while away an hour very agreeably at a card- 
table, but are indifferent whether they play or no, and will 
desire an adversary who has slipped a wrong card to take 
it up and play another. These insufferable triflers are the 
curse of a table ; one of these flies will spoil a whole pot. 
Of such it may be said that they do not play at cards, but 
only play at playing with them." 

The portrait must have been drawn in the main from 
life. One of the most singular suggestions ever offered by 
Lamb's editors is that this "gentlewoman born," with hex 




" fine last-century countenance," the niece of " old Walter 
Plumer," was drawn from Lamb's old grandmother, Mrs. 
Field. As a test of the likelihood of this theory it will be 
found instructive to read, after this essay, the touching 
lines already cited called The Grandame. 

The marked peculiarities of Lamb's style give so unique 
a colouring to all these essays that one is apt to over- 
look to what a variety of themes it is found suitable. 
There is no mood, from that of almost reckless merri- 
ment to that of pathetic sweetness or religious awe, 
to which the style is not able to modulate with no felt 
sense of incongruity. A feature of Lamb's method, as 
we have seen, is his use of quotations. Not only are 
they brought in so as really to illustrate, but the passages 
cited themselves receive illustration from the use made of 
them, and gain a permanent and heightened value from it. 
Whether it be a garden-scene from Marvell, a solemn para- 
dox from Sir Thomas Browne, or a stanza from some then 
recent poem of Wordsworth, the quotation fulfils a double 
purpose, and has sent many a reader to explore for himself 
in the author whose words strike him with such luminous 
effect in their new setting. Take, for example, the 
Miltonic digression in the essay on Grace before Meat. 
Lamb is never more happy than in quoting from or dis- 
coursing on Milton: — 

The severest satire upon full tables and surfeits is the ban- 
quet which Satan, in the Paradise Regained, provides for a 
temptation in the wilderness : — 

A table richly spread in regal modes 
With dishes piled and meats of noblest sort 
And savour ; beasts of chase, or fowl of game, 
In pastry built, or from the spit, or boiled 
Gris-amber-steamed ; all fish from sea or shore, 
Freshet or purling brook, for which was drained 
Pontus, and Lucrine bay, and Afric coast. 




The tempter, I warrant you, thought these cates would go down 
without the recommendatoiw preface of a benediction. They are 
like to be short graces where the devil plays the host. I am 
afraid the poet wants his usual decorum in this place. Was he 
thinking of the old Roman luxury, or of a gaudy day at Cam- 
bridge ? This was a temptation fitter for a Heliogabalus. The 
whole banquet is too civic and culinar}' ; and the accompani- 
ments altogether a profanation of that deep, abstracted, holy 
scene. The mighty artillery of sauces which the cook-fiend 
conjures up, is out of proportion to the simple wants and plain 
hunger of the guest. He that disturbed him in his dreams, from 
his dreams might have been taught better. To the temperate 
fantasies of the famished Son of God what sort of feasts 
presented themselves ? He dreamed indeed — 

As appetite is wont to dream 
Of meats and drinks, nature's refreshment sweet. 

But what meats ? 

Him thought, he by the brook of Cherith stood, 
And saw the ravens with their horny beaks 
Food to Elijah bringing even and morn : 

Though ravenous, taught to abstain from what they brought. 

He saw the prophet also how he fled 

Into the desert, and how there he slept 

Under a juniper : then how awaked 

He found his supper on the coals prepared, 

And by the angel was bid rise and eat, 

And ate the second time after repose, 

The strength whereof sufficed him forty days: 

Sometimes, that with Elijah he partook 

Or as a guest with Daniel at his pulse. 

Nothing in Milton is finelier fancied than these temperate 
dreams of the divine Hungerer. To which of these two vision- 
ary banquets, think you, would the introduction of what is 
called the grace have been most fitting and pertinent? 

"I am no Quaker at my food." So Lamb charac- 
teristically proceeds, after one short paragraph interposed 




" I confess I am not indifferent to the kinds of it. Those 
unctuous morsels of deer's flesh were not made to be 
received with dispassionate services. I hate a man who 
swallows it, affecting not to know what he is eating ; I 
suspect his taste in higher matters. I shrink instinctively 
from one who professes to like minced veal. There is a 

physiognomical character in the tastes for food. C 

holds that a man cannot have a pure mind who refuses 
apple-dumplings. I am not certain but he is right." 

And so he rambles on in almost endless digression and 
absolute fearlessness as to egotism of such a kind ever 
palling or annoying. This egotism — it is almost super- 
fluous to mark — is a dominant characteristic of Lamb's 
manner. The prominence of the personal element had 
indeed been a feature of the essay proper ever since 
Montaigne, its first inventor. But Lamb's use of the " I " 
has little resemblance to the gossiping confessions of the 
Gascon gentleman. These grave avowals as to the minced 
veal and the dumplings are not of the same order as 
Montaigne's confidences as to his preference of white wine 
to red. The " I " of Lamb in such a case is no concession 
to an idle curiosity, nor is it in fact biographical at all. 
Nor is it the egotism of Steele and Addison, though, when 
occasion arises, Lamb shows signs of the influence upon 
him of these earlier masters in his own special school. He 
thus begins, for instance, his paper called The Wedding : — 
" I do not know when I have been better pleased than at 
being invited last week to be present at the wedding of a 
friend's daughter. I like to jrnake one at these ceremonies, 
which to us old people give back our youth in a manner, 
and restore our gayest season, in the remembrance of our 
own success, or the regrets scarcely less tender, of our own 
youthful disappointments, in this point of a settlement. 




On these occasions I am sure to be in good-humour for a 
week or two after, and enjoy a reflected honeymoon." 
In matter, language, and cadence, this might have been 
taken bodily from the Spectator. Yet this was no freak 
of imitation on Lamb's part. It merely arose from the 
subject and the train of thought engendered by it being of 
that domestic kind which Kichard Steele loved so well to 
discourse on. Lamb's mind and memory were so stored 
with English reading of an older date, that the occurrence 
of a particular theme sends him back, quite naturally, to 
those early masters who had specially made that theme 
their own. For all his strongly-marked individuality of 
manner, there are perhaps few English writers who have 
written so differently upon different themes. When he 
chose to be fanciful, he could be as euphuistic as Donne 
or Burton— when he was led to be grave and didactic, he 
could write with the sententiousness of Bacon, — when 
his imagination and feeling together lifted him above 
thoughts of style, his English cleared and soared into 
regions not far below the noblest flights of Milton and 
J eremy Taylor. When on the other hand he was at home, 
on homely themes, he wrote " like a man of this world," 
and of his own century and year. 

Still it must be said that his style is in the main an 
eclectic English. It is needless to add that this implies 
no affectation. ~No man ever wrote to such purpose in a 
style deliberately assumed. Hazlitt remarks of him, that 
" he is so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his authors, 
that the idea of imitation is almost done way. There is 
an inward unction, a marrowy vein both in the thought 
and feeling, an intuition, deep and lively, of his subject 
that carries off any quaintness or awkwardness arising 
from an antiquated style and dress." This is quite true, 




and Hazlitt might have added that in the rare instances 
when Lamb used this old fashioned manner, without the 
deeper thought or finer observation to elevate it, the 
manner alone, whimsical and ingenious as it is, becomes 
a trifle wearisome. The euphuistic ingenuity of All 
Fools' Day is not a pleasing sample of Lamb's faculty. 
His friend Bernard Barton wrote of him in a sonnet, 

From the olden time 
Of authorship, thy patent should be dated, 
And thou with Marvell, Browne, and Burton, mated. 

This trio of authors is well chosen. There is no poet he 
loves better to quote than Marvell, and. none with whose 
poetic vein his own is more in sympathy. Lamb 
received his impressions from nature (unless it was in 
Hertfordshire) largely through the medium of books, and 
he makes it clear that old-fashioned garden-scenes come 
to him first with their peculiar charm when he meets with 
them in Milton or Marvell. But the second name cited 
by Barton is the most important of all among the influences 
on Lamb's style and the cast of his thought. Of all old 
writers, the author of the Urn Burial and the Religio 
Medici appears oftenest, in quotation or allusion, in the 
Essays of Elia. Lamb somewhere boasts that he first 
" among the moderns " discovered and proclaimed his excel- 
lences. And though Lamb never (so far as I can dis- 
cover) caught the special rhythm of Browne's sentences, 
it is from him that he adopted the constant habit just 
referred to, of asserting his opinions, feelings, and specu- 
lations in the first person. Different as are the two men 
in other regards, Lamb's egotism is largely the egotism of 
Sir Thomas Browne. From Browne too he probably 
caught a certain habit of gloomy paradox, in dwelling on 



the mysteries of the supernatural world. His sombre 
musings upon death in the essay called New Year's Eve 
bear the strong impress of Browne, notwithstanding that 
they are antagonistic (perhaps consciously) to a remark- 
able passage in the Relujio Medici And even in his 
lighter vein of speculation, Lamb's persistent use of the 
first person often reads as if he were humorously parody- 
ing the same original. 

A large portion of Lamb's history is related in these 
essays, and with the addition of a few names and dates, a 
complete biography might be constructed from them alone. 
As we have seen, he tells of his childish thoughts and 
feelings, of his school-days, his home in the Temple, the 
Hertfordshire village where he passed his holidays as a 
boy, and the University towns where he loved to spend 
them in manhood. He has drawn most detailed por- 
traits of his grandmother, his father, sister, and brother, 
and would no doubt have added that of his mother, but 
for the painful memories it would have brought to Mary. 
Of the incidents in the happier days of his life, when Mary 
was in good health, and the daily sharer in all interests 
and pleasures, he has writtfen with a special charm. There 
is a passage in the essay called Old China without which 
any picture of their united life would be incomplete. 
The essay had begun by declaring Lamb's partiality for 
old china, from which after a few paragraphs he diverges, 
by a modulation common with him, to the recollection 
of his past struggles. He had been taking tea, he says, 
with his cousin (under this relationship his sister Mary 
is always indicated), using a new set of china, and 
remarking to her on their better fortunes which enabled 
them to indulge now and. again in the luxury of such 
a purchase, "when a passing sentiment seemed to overshade 




the brows of my companion. I am quick at detecting these 
summer clouds in Bridget. 

" I wish the good old times would come again," she 
said, " when we were not quite so rich. I do not mean 
that I want to be poor, but there was a middle state," so 
she was pleased to ramble on, " in which I am sure we 
were a great deal happier. A purchase is but a purchase, 
now that you have money enough and to spare. For- 
merly it used to be a triumph. When we coveted a cheap 
luxury (and ! how much ado I had to get you to con- 
sent in those days !) we were used to have a debate two or 
three days before, and to weigh the for and against, and 
think what we might spare it out of, and what saving we 
could hit upon, that should be an equivalent. A thing was 
worth buying then, when we felt the money that we paid 
for it. 

"Do you remember the brown suit which you made to 
hang upon you, till all your friends cried shame upon you, 
it grew so threadbare, and all because of that folio Beau- 
mont and Fletcher, which you dragged home late at night 
from Barker's in Co vent Garden 1 Do you remember how 
we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds 
to the purchase, and had not come to a determination till 
it was near ten o'clock of the Saturday night, when you 
set off from Islington fearing you should be too late — and 
when the old bookseller, with some grumbling opened his 
shop, and by the twinkling taper (for he was setting bed- 
wards), lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures, and 
when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cum- 
bersome, and when you presented it to me, and when we 
were exploring the perfectness of it (collating, you called 
it), and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves 
with paste, which your impatience would not suffer to be 



left till daybreak — was there no pleasure in being a poor 
man ? or can those neat black clothes which yon wear now, 
and are so careful to keep brushed, since we have become 
rich and finical, give you half the honest vanity with 
which you flaunted it about in that over-worn suit — your 
old corbeau — for four or five weeks longer than you should 
have done, to pacify your conscience for the mighty sum 
of fifteen or sixteen shillings, was it 1 — a great affair we 
thought it then — which you had lavished on the old 
folio 1 Now you can afford to buy any book that pleases 
you, but I do not see that you ever bring me home any 
nice old purchases now." 

The essay " Blakesmoor in H shire " has been more 

than once referred to, in connexion with Lamb's old 
grandmother, Mrs. Field. The essay acquires a new 
interest when it is known how much of fact is con- 
tained in it. William Plumer, who represented his 
county in parliament for so many years, and was at the 
time of his death in 1822, member for Higham Ferrers, 
left his estates at Gilston and Blakesware to his widow, 
apparently with the understanding that the old Blakes- 
ware mansion should be pulled down. Accordingly not 
long before the date of Lamb's essay (September, 1824) it 
had been levelled to the ground ; and some of the more 
valuable of its contents, including the busts of the Twelve 
Caesars, so often dwelt on by Lamb in letter or essay, 
removed to the other house at Gilston. Under its roof, 
and among its gardens and terraces, Lamb's happiest days 
as a child had been spent, and he had just been to look 
once more on the few vestiges still remaining : — 

I do not know a pleasure more affecting than to range ;i( will 
jover the deserted apartments of some fine old family mansion. 





The traces of extinct grandeur admit of a better passion than 
envy ; and contemplations on the great and good, whom we fancy 
in succession to have been its inhabitants, weave for us illusions 
incompatible with the bustle of modern occupancy, and vanities of 
foolish present aristocracy. The same difference of feeling, I think, 
attends us between entering an empty and a crowded church. 
In the latter it is chance but some present human frailty — an 
act of inattention on the part of some of the auditory, or a trait 
of affectation, or worse, vainglory, on that of the preacher — puts 
us by our best thoughts, disharmonizing the place and the 
occasion. But would'st thou know the beauty of holiness ? Go 
alone on some weekday, borrowing the keys of good Master 
Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some country church ; think 
of the piety that has kneeled there — the congregations, old and 
young, that have found consolation there — the meek pastor, the 
docile parishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross, 
conflicting comparisons, drink in the tranquillity of the place, till 
thou thyself become as fixed and motionless as the marble 
effigies that kneel and weep around thee. 

Journeying northward lately, I could not resist going some 
few miles out of my road to look upon the remains of an old 
great house with which I had been impressed in this way in 
infancy. I was apprised that the owner of it had lately pulled 
it down ; still I had a vague notion that it could not all have 
perished, that so much solidity with magnificence could not have 
been crushed all at once into the mere dust and rubbish which I 
found it. 

The work of ruin had proceeded with a swift hand indeed, 
and the demolition of a few weeks had reduced it to an 

I was astonished at the indistinction of everything. Where 
had stood the great gates? What bounded the courtyard? 
Whereabout did the outhouses commence ? A few bricks only 
lay as representatives of that which was so stately and so 

Death does not shrink up his human victim at this rate. The 
burnt ashes of a man weigh more in their proportion. 




Had I seen these brick and mortar knaves at their process of 
destruction, at the plucking of every panel I should have felt 
the varlets at my heart. I should have cried out to them to 
spare a plank at least out of the cheerful store-room, in whose 
hot window-seat I used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plot 
before, and the hum and flappings of that one solitary wasp 
that ever haunted it about me — it is in mine ears now, as oft as 
summer returns ; or a panel of the yellow room. 

Why, every plank and panel of that house for me had magic 
in it. The tapestried bedrooms — tapestry so much better than 
painting — not adorning merely — but peopling the wainscots — 
at which childhood ever and anon would steal a look, shifting 
its coverlid (replaced as quickly) to exercise its tender courage 
in a momentary eye-encounter with those stern bright visages, 
staring reciprocally — all Ovid on the walls — in colours vivider 
than his descriptions. Actoeon in mid sprout, with the un- 
appeasable prudery of Diana ; and the still more provoking and 
almost culinary coolness of Dan Phoebus, eel-fashion, deliberately 
divesting of Marsyas. 

Then that haunted room — in which old Mrs. Battle died — where- 
into I have crept, but always in the daytime, with a passion of 
fear ; and a sneaking curiosity, terror-tainted, to hold com- 
munication with the past. — How shall they build it up again ? 

It was an old deserted place, yet not so long deserted but that 
traces of the splendour of past inmates were everywhere ap- 
parent. Its furniture was still standing, even to the tarnished 
gilt-leather battledores and crumbling feathers of shuttlecocks 
in the nursery, which told that children had once played there. 
But I was a lonely child, and had the range at will of every 
apartment, knew every nook and corner, wondered and wor- 
shipped everywhere. The solitude of childhood is not so much 
the mother of thought, as it is the feeder of love, and silence, 
and admiration. So strange a passion for the place possessed 
me in those years, that though there lay — I shame to say how 
few roods distant from the mansion — half hid by trees, what I 
judged some romantic lake, such was the spell which bound me 
to the house, and such my carefulness not to pass its strict and 




proper precincts, that the idle waters lay unexplored for me ; 
and not till late in life, curiosity prevailing over elder devotion, 
I found, to my astonishment, a pretty brawling brook had been 
the Lacus Incognitus of my infancy. Variegated views, ex- 
tensive prospects — and those at no great distance from the house 
— I was told of such — what were they to me, being out of the 
boundaries of my Eden ? So far from a wish to roam, I would 
have drawn, methought, still closer the fences of my chosen 
prison ; and have been hemmed in by a yet securer cincture of 
those excluding garden walls. I could have exclaimed with that 
garden-loving poet — 

Bind me, ye woodbines, in your twines ; 
Curl me about, ye gadding vines ; 
And oh so close your circles lace, 
That I may never leave this place : 
But lest your fetters prove too weak, 
Ere I your silken bondage break, 
Do you, O brambles, chain me too, 
And, courteous briars, nail me through. 1 

I was here as in a lonely temple. Snug firesides, the low- 
built roof, parlours ten feet by ten, frugal boards, and all the 
homeliness of home— these were the condition of my birth — the 
wholesome soil which I was planted in. 

Yet without impeachment to their tenderest lessons, I am not 
sorry to have had glances of something beyond ; and to have 
taken, if but a peep, in childhood, at the contrasting accidents 
of a great fortune. 

In this essay, save for the change of Blakesware to 
Blakesmoor, the experience is related without disguise. 
But it is not always easy to disengage fact from fiction in 
these more personal confessions. Lamb had a love of 
mystifying and putting his readers on a false scent. And 
the difficulty of getting at the truth is the greater because 

1 Marvell on Appleton House., to the Lord Fairfax. 




he is often most outspoken when we should expect him to 
be reticent, and on the other hand alters names and places 
when there would seem to be little reason for it. A 
curious instance of this habit is supplied by the touching 
reverie called Dream Clvildren. This essay appeared in the 
London for January, 1822. Lamb's elder brother John 
was then lately dead. A letter to Wordsworth, of March 
in this year, mentions his death as recent, and speaks of a 
certain " deadness to everything," which the writer dated 
from that event. The "broad, burly, jovial" John Lamb 
(so Talfourd describes him), had lived his own, easy, 
prosperous life up to this time, not altogether avoiding 
social relations with his brother and sister, but evidently 
absorbed to the last in his own interests and pleasures. 
The death of this brother, wholly unsympathetic as he was 
with Charles, served to bring home to him his loneliness. 
He was left in the world with but one near relation, and 
that one too often removed from him for months at a time 
by the saddest of afflictions. No wonder if he became 
keenly aware of his solitude. No wonder if his thoughts 
turned to what might have been, and he looked back to 
those boyish days when he wandered in the glades of 
Blakesware with Alice by his side. He imagines himself 
with his little ones, who have crept round him to hear 
stories about their " great-grandmother Field." For no 
reason that is apparent, while he retains his grandmother's 
real name, he places the house in Norfolk, but all the 
details that follow are drawn from Blakesware. " Then I 
went on to say how religious and how good their great- 
grandmother Field was, how beloved and respected by every- 
body, though she was not indeed the mistress of this great 
house, but had only the charge of it (and yd in some 
respects she might be said to be the mistress of it too) 




committed to her by its owner, who preferred living in a 
newer and more fashionable mansion which he had pur- 
chased somewhere in an adjoining county; 2 but still 
she lived in it in a manner as if it had been her own, 
and kept up the dignity of the great house in a sort while 
she lived, which afterwards came to decay, and was nearly 
pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and carried 
away to the owner's other house, where they were set up, 
and looked as awkward as if some one were to carry away 
the old tombs they had seen lately at the abbey and stick 
them up in Lady C.'s tawdry gilt drawing-room. Here 
John smiled, as much as to say, ' That would be foolish 
indeed.' " 

Inexpressibly touching, when we have once learned to 
penetrate the thin disguise in which he clothes them, are 
the hoarded memories, the tender regrets, which Lamb, 
writing by his " lonely hearth," thus ventured to commit 
to the uncertain sympathies of the great public. More 
touching still is the almost superhuman sweetness with 
which he deals with the character of his lately lost brother. 
He had named his little ones after this brother, and after 
their " pretty dead mother "—John and Alice. And there 
is something of the magic of genius, unless, indeed, it was 
a burst of uncontrollable anguish, in the revelation with 
which his dream ends. He kept still, as always, the 
secret of his beloved's name. But he tells us who it was 
that won the prize from him, and it is no secret that in 
this case the real name is given. The conclusion of this 
essay must be our last extract, but it would be difficult to 
find one more worthy : — 

Then in somewhat a more heightened tone, I told how, though 

2 This is, of course, Gilston, the other seat of the Plumer family. 




their great-grandmother Field loved all her grandchildren, yet 
in an especial manner she might be said to love their uncle, 

John L , because he was so handsome and spirited a youth, 

and a king to the rest of us ; and instead of moping about in 
solitary corners, like some of us, he would mount the most 
mettlesome horse he could get, when but an imp no bigger than 
themselves, and make it carry him half over the county in a morn- 
ing, and join the hunters when there were any out; and yet he 
loved the old house and gardens too, but had too much spirit to 
be always pent up within their boundaries ; and how their uncle 
grew up to man's estate as brave as he was handsome, to the 
admiration of everybody, but of their great-grandmother Field 
most especially ; and how he used to carry me upon his back 
when I was a lame-footed boy — for he was a good bit older than 
me — many a mile when I could not walk for pain ; and how in 
after-life he became lame-footed too, and I did not always (I 
fear) make allowance enough for him when he was impatient 
and in pain, nor remember sufficiently how considerate he had 
been to me when I was lame-footed ; and how when he died, 
though he had not been dead an hour, it seemed as if he had 
died a great while ago, such a distance there is betwixt life and 
death ; and how I bore his death as I thought pretty well at 
first, but afterwards it haunted and haunted me ; and though I 
did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as I think he 
would have done if I had died, yet I missed him all day long 
and knew not till then how much I had loved him. I missed 
his kindness and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be 
alive again to be quarrelling with him (for we quarrelled some- 
times), rather than not have him again, and was as uneasy with- 
out him as he their poor uncle must have been when the doctor 
took off his limb. Here the children fell a-crying, and asked if 
their little mourning which they had on was not for Uncle John, 
and they looked up and prayed me not to go on about their 
uncle, but to tell them some stories about their pretty dead 
mother. Then I told how for seven long years, in hope sometimes 
sometimes in despair, yet persisting ever, I courted the fair Alice 
W n ; and as much as children could understand, I explained 




to them what coyness and difficulty and denial meant in maidens 
— when suddenly, turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice 
looked out at her eyes with such a reality of representment, that 
I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or 
whose that bright hair was ; and while I stood gazing, both 
the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and 
still receding till nothing at last but two mournful features were 
seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely 
impressed upon me the effects of speech : " We are not of Alice, 
nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice 
call Bartram father. We are nothing ; less than nothing, and 
dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait 
upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have 
existence and a name " — and immediately awaking I found my- 
self quietly seated in my bachelor arm-chair, where I had fallen 
asleep, with the faithful Bridget unchanged by my side ; but 
John L. (or James Elia) was gone for ever. 

The space available for quotation is exhausted, and 
many sides of Lamb's peculiar faculty are still unre- 
presented. Those who have yet to make his acquaint- 
ance may be advised to read, in addition to those already 
named, the essay On Some of the Old Actors, containing 
the analysis of the character of Malvolio, a noble example 
of the uses which Shakespearian criticism may be made to 
serve — the extract from a letter to his friend Barron Field, 
a judge in New South Wales, entitled, Distant Corre- 
spondents, and that called The Praise of Chimney Siveepers. 
Belonging to the personal group, which includes Blakes- 
moor and Dream Children, is the paper Machery End in 
Hertfordshire, scarcely less delightful. The two critical 
essays on Sidney and Wither (the latter, however, does 
not belong to the Elia series), contain some of Lamb's 
most subtle criticism and most eloquent writing. Bar- 
bara S. is an anecdote of Fanny Kelly's early life ; 




and Captain Jackson, is a character-sketch, which, 
drspite the vast difference between the two writers, 
curiously suggests the tine hand of Miss Austen. Lastly, 
tlif paper with the startling title, Confessions of a Drunkard, 
is not to be overlooked. A strange interest attaches to this 
paper. It had been originally written by Lamb, at the 
request of a friend, as one of a series of Temperance Tracts. 
In this capacity it had been quoted in an article in the 
Quarterly, for April, 1822, as "a fearful picture of the 
consequences of intemperance," which the reviewer went 
on to say " we have reason to know is a true tale." In 
order to give the author the opportunity of contradicting 
this statement, the tract was reprinted in the London in 
the following August, under the signature of Elia. To it 
were appended a few words of remonstrance with the 
Quarterly reviewer for assuming the literal truthfulness 
of these confessions, but accompanied with certain signifi- 
cant admissions that showed Lamb had no right to be 
seriously indignant. "It is indeed," he writes, "a com- 
pound extracted out of his long observations of the effects 
of drinking upon all the world about him ; and this 
accumulated mass of misery he hath centred (as the 
custom is with judicious essayists) in a single figure. 
We deny not that a portion of his own experiences may 
have passed into the picture (as who, that is not a washy 
fellow, but must at some time have felt the after- operation 
of a too generous cup 1) ; but then how heightened ! how 
exaggerated ! how little within the sense of the Eeview, 
where a part, in their slanderous usage, must be under- 
stood to stand for the whole." The truth is that Lamb 
in writing his tract had been playing with edge-tools, and 
could hardly have complained if they turned against him- 
self. It would be those who knew Lamb, or at least 




the circumstances of his life, best, who would be most 
likely to accept these confessions as true. For in the 
course of them he gives with curious fidelity the outline 
of an experience that was certainly not imaginary. The 
' friendly harpies " who came about him for his gin-and- 
water, and made its consumption more and more a habit ; 
the exchange of these in due course for companions of a 
better type, " of intrinsic and felt worth the substitution 
for a while, under the influence of two of these, of the 
" sweet enemy" tobacco, and the new slavery to this 
counter-attraction; the increasing need of stimulant to 
set his wits to work, and the buffoonery indulged under 
its effects ; all this is told in a way that no friend of 
Lamb could affect to mistake. No doubt the exaggeration 
which Lamb pleads is there also, and the drunkard's 
utter collapse and misery are described in a style which, as 
applied to himself, was absurd. But to call the insinua- 
tion that the tract had in it biographic truth, " malig- 
nant," as some of Lamb's apologists have done, is not less 
absurd. The essay has enough reality in it to live as a 
very powerful plea for the virtue of self-restraint, and it 
may continue to do good service in the cause. 

De Quincey has observed that one chief pleasure we 
derive from Lamb's writing is due to a secret satisfaction 
in feeling that his admirers must always of necessity be a 
select few. There is an unpleasantly cynical flavour about 
'the remark, but at the same time one understands to what it 
points. Thoroughly to understand and enjoy Charles Lamb, 
one must have come to entertain a feeling towards him 
almost like personal affection, and such a circle of intimates 
will always be small. It is necessary to come to the study 
of his writings in entire trustfulness, and having first cast 
away all prejudice. The reader must be content to enjoy 




what is set before him, and not to grumble because any 
chance incident on the road tempts the writer away from 
the path on which he set out. If an Essay is headed 
Oxford in the Vacation, he must not complain that only half 
the paper touches on Oxford, and that the rest is divided 
between the writer Elia, and a certain absent-minded old 
scholar, George Dyer, on whoso peculiarities Lamb was 
never weary of dwelling. What, then, is the compensating 
charm? What is there in these rambling and multi- 
farious meditations that proves so stimulating and sugges- 
tive ? There is an epithet commonly applied to Lamb so 
hackneyed that one shrinks from using it once more — the 
epithet "delightful." No other word certainly seems 
more appropriate, and it is perhaps because (in defiance of 
etymology) the sound of it suggests that double virtue of 
illuminating, and making happy. It is in vain to attempt 
to convey an idea of the impression left by Lamb's style. 
It evades analysis. One might as well seek to account for 
the perfume of lavender, or the flavour of quince. It 
is in truth an essence, prepared from flowers and herbs 
gathered in fields where the ordinary reader does not 
often range. And the nature of the writer— the alembic 
in which these various simples were distilled — was as rare 
for sweetness and purity as the best of those enshrined in 
the old folios — his " midnight darlings." If he had by 
nature the delicate grace of Marvell, and the quaint fancy 
of Quarles, he also shared the chivalry of Sidney, and could 
lay on himself " the lowliest duties," in the spirit of his best- 
beloved of all, John Milton. It is the man, Charles 
Lamb, that constitutes the enduring charm of his written 
words. He is, as I have said, an egotist — but an egotist 
without a touch of vanity or self-assertion — an egotist 
without a grain of envy or ill-nature. When asked one 



[CH. VI. 

day whether he did not hate some person under discus- 
sion, he retorted, " How could I hate him 1 Don't I 
know him .1 I never could hate any one I knew." It is 
this humanity that gives to his intellect its flexibility and 
its deep vision, that is the feeder at once of his pathos and 
his humour. 



(1823— 182G.) 

The last six years of Lamb's life, though the most remark- 
able in his literary annals, had not been fruitful in 
incident. The death of his elder brother, already men- 
tioned, was the one event that nearly touched his heart 
and spirits. Its effect had been, with the loss of some 
other friends about the same time, to produce, he said, 
" a certain deadness to everything." It had brought home 
to him his loneliness, and moreover served to increase a 
long felt weariness of the monotony of office life. Already, 
in the beginning of 1822, he was telling Wordsworth, " I 
grow ominously tired of official confinement. Thirty years 
have I served the Philistines, and my neck is not subdued 
to the yoke. You don't know how wearisome it is to 
breathe the air of four pent walls, without relief, day after 
day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and 
four, without ease or interposition. Tcedet me liarum 
quotidianarum fwmarum, these pestilential clerk-faces 

always in one's dish I dare not whisper to myself 

a pension on this side of absolute incapacitation and 
infirmity, till years have sucked me dry — oti/im cum 
indignitate. I had thought in a green old age (0 green 




thought !) to have retired to Ponder's End, emblematic 
name, how beautiful ! in the Ware Road, there to have made 
up my accounts with heaven and the Company, toddling 
about it between it and Cheshunt, anon stretching, on some 
fine Isaac Walton morning, to Hoddesden or Amwell, 
careless as a beggar; but walking, walking ever till I 
fairly walked myself off my legs, dying walking ! The 
hope is gone. I sit like Philomel all day (but not singing) 
with my heart against this thorn of a desk." Very 
touching, by the side of the delightful suggestion of 
Ponder's End, is the dream of retirement to the Ware 
Road — the road, that is to say, that led to Widford and 
Blakesware. If these were not to him exactly what 
Auburn was to Goldsmith, he still at times had hopes, — 

His long vexation past, 
There to return, and die at home at last. 

Three years were, however, to elapse before he was 
at liberty to choose his own place of residence. It is 
significant that though he could never bring himself to 
live quite beyond reach of town, and the " sweet security 
of streets," it was in the Hertfordshire direction that he 
turned in his last days, and died as it were half-way 
between London and that quiet Hertfordshire village, the 
two places he loved best on earth. 

There was one incident in those Russell Street days that 
would have been an event indeed in the life of most 
home-keeping men who had reached middle life without 
having once left English shores. In the summer holiday 
of 1822 Charles and his sister made a trip to Paris. At 
whose suggestion, or in obedience to what sudden impulse, 
they were led to make so violent a change in their usual 
habits, there is nothing to show. They left England in 


the middle of June, and two months later we find Mary 
L;imb still in Paris, and seeing the sights under the 
direction of their friend, Oabb Robinson. Charles, who 
had lvturiK'd earlier t<» England, had left a characteristic 
note of instructions for his sister's guidance, advising her 
to walk along the " Borough side of the Seine," where 
she would find a mile and a half of print-shops and book- 
stalls. " Then," he adds, not unfairly describing a first 
impression of Pere-la-Chaise, " there is a place where the 
Paris people put all their dead people, and bring them 
tlowers and dolls and gingerbread-nuts and sonnets and 
such trifles ; and that is all, I think, worth seeing as 
sights, except that the streets and shops of Paris are 
themselves the best sight." In a note to Barron Field on 
his return, he adds a few more of his experiences, how he 
had eaten frogs, fricasseed, " the nicest little delicate 
things," and how the Seine was " exactly the size to 
run through a magnificent street." 

He finds time, however, to add to his hasty note the 
pleasant intelligence that he had met Talma. Kenney, 
the dramatist, was at this time living at Versailles, and to 
him Lamb owed this introduction. Talma had lately 
given a thousand francs for what he was assured was an 
authentic portrait of Shakespeare, and he invited Kenney 
to bring Lamb to see it. " It is painted," Lamb writes, " on 
the one half of a pair of bellows, a lovely picture, corre- 
sponding with the folio head." It is hard to believe that 
Lamb had any doubts about the spuriousness of this relic, 
though his language on the point is dubious. He quotes 
the rhymes " in old carved wooden letters " that surrounded 
the portrait, and adds the significant remark that Ireland 
was not found out by his parchments, but by his poetry. 
And perhaps he did not wish to hurt Talma's feelings. It 




was arranged that the party should see the tragedian in 
Eegulus the same evening, and that he should sup with 
them after the performance. Lamb, we are told, " could 
not at all enter into the spirit of French acting, and in 
his general distaste made no exception in favour of his 
intended guest. This, however, did not prevent their 
mutual and high relish of each other's character and con- 
versation, nor was any allusion made to the performance, 
till, on rising to go, Talma inquired how he liked it. 
Lamb shook his head and smiled. ' Ah ! ' said Talma. 
* I was not very happy to-night : you must see me in 
Sylla.' 'Incidit in Scyllam,' said Lamb, 'qui vult 
vitare Charybdim.' ' Ah ! you are a rogue ; you are a 
great rogue,' said Talma, shaking him cordially by the 
hand, as they parted." 

There is a sad story, only too likely to be true, that 
Mary Lamb was seized with one of her old attacks on the 
journey, and had to be left at Amiens in charge of her 
attendant. If so, it may account for her brother avoiding 
the subject in later essays and letters. An Elia essay 
embodying even the surface impressions of a month's stay 
in Paris would have been a welcome addition to the 
number. Lamb was usually prompt to seize on the latest 
incident in his life and turn it to this purpose. When 
short-sighted George Dyer, leaving the cottage at Islington, 
walked straight into the New Eiver in broad daylight, the 
adventure appears the very next month in the London 
Magazine, under the heading of Amicus Redivivus. But 
France and the French do not seem to have opened any 
new vein of humour or observation. In truth, Lamb 
was unused to let his sympathies go forth save in 
certain customary directions. Any persons, and any 
book that he had come to know well — any one of the " old 




familiar faces " — served to draw out those sympathies, 
liut novelties he almost always passed by unmoved. 

The liist series of Lamb's essays, under the title of " Elia 

— Emny$ that hoot appeared under that signature in the 
Lnifluit Mmjazinc — was published in a single volume by 
Taylor and Hessey at the opening of the year 1823. It 
contained the contributions of something less than two 
years. As yet there was assuredly no sign of failing 
power in the brain and heart that produced them. Nor 
did Lamb cease to contribute to the magazine and else- 
where after the appearance of the first volume. The 
second series, published ten years later, is an exception to 
the rule that sequels must necessarily be failures. Old 
China and Poor Relations, the Old Margate Hoy, Blalces- 
moor, Barbara S., and the Superannuated Man, which are 
found in the second series, exhibit all Lamb's qualities 
at their highest. It was perhaps only a passing mood of 
melancholy that made him write to Bernard Barton, in 
March, 1823, when the book had already begun to make 
its mark — " They have dragged me again into the 
magazine, but I feel the spirit of the thing in my own 
mind quite gone. c Some brains ' (I think Ben Jonson 
says it) 1 will endure but one skimming.' " But another 
cause for this depression may have been at work. There 
was a painful incident connected with the Elia volume 
from the first, for which even the quick appreciation of 
the public could not compensate. There had been one 
exception to* the welcome with which the book had been 
greeted. A word of grave disapprobation, or what had 
seemed such to Lamb, had been heard amid the chorus 
of approval, and this word had been spoken by a dear 
and valued friend. 

In the Quarterly Review of January, 1823, appeared an 





article, known to be by Southey, professing to be a review 
of a work by Gregoire, ex-Bishop of Blois, on the rise 
and progress of Deism in France. After the fashion of 
reviewers, Southey had made the book an occasion for a 
general survey of the progress of free thought in England 
as well as abroad, and the article was issued with the 
alarming title, Progress of Infidelity. Towards its close 
Southey is led very characteristically into many general 
reflections on the reasonableness of belief, and the un- 
reasonableness of scepticism, and while engaged on this 
line of thought, it seems to have occurred to him that he 
might at once "point a moral "and call attention to a friend's 
book, by a quotation from the then newly published 
volume of Lamb. And this is how he set about it : — 

" Unbelievers have not always been honest enough thus 
to express their real feelings ; but this we know concern- 
ing them, that when they have renounced their birthright 
of hope, they have not been able to divest themselves of 
fear. From the nature of the human mind this might be 
presumed, and in fact it is so. They may deaden the 
heart and stupefy the conscience, but they cannot destroy 
the imaginative faculty. There is a remarkable proof of 
this in Elia's Essays, a book which wants only a sounder 
religious feeling, to be as delightful as it is original. In 
that upon Witches and other Night Fears, he says 'It 
is not book or picture, or the stories of foolish servants, 
which create these terrors in children. They can at most 
but give them a direction. Dear little T. H., who of all 
children has been brought up with the most scrupulous 
exclusion of every taint of superstition, who was never 
allowed to hear of goblin or apparition, or scarcely to be 
told of bad men, or to hear or read of any distressing 
story, finds all this world of fear, from which he has been 




bo zigidly excluded ah extra, in his own " thick-coming 
fancies;" ami from his little midnight pillow this nurse- 
child of optimism will start at shapes, unborrowed of 
tradition, in sweats to which the reveries of the cell- 
damned murderer arc tranquillity.' " 

I have had occasion to refer to this essay before, in 
speaking of Lamb's childhood. For, as usual, it originated 
in his own experience. He was led to relate how from 
the age of four to seven his nightly sleep had been dis- 
turbed by childish terrors, in which the grim picture of 
Saul and the Witch, in Stackhouse's History of the Bible 
had borne so prominent a part. And then, in order 
to strengthen his argument that these terrors are nervous, 
and not to be traced to any gloomy or improper religious 
training, he cites the parallel case, within his own know- 
ledge, of " dear little T. H." All Lamb's friends and 
associates knew that this was little Thornton Hunt, Leigh 
Hunt's eldest son. The use of initials was really no dis- 
guise at all. Lamb admitted in his subsequent remon- 
strance with Southey that to call him T. H. was " as good 
as naming him." If the sanctity of private life had been 
violated, it was certainly Lamb who had set the example. 
But, as certainly, he had said nothing to the discredit of 
the poor child or his parents. According to the ethics of 
journalism current sixty years ago there was nothing un- 
common in this way of indicating living people. Lamb was 
specially fond of bringing in his friends and acquaintances 
by their initials. His own family, Coleridge, Norris, Barron 
Field, and many others, occur repeatedly in his writings in 
this guise. He was intimate with Leigh Hunt and his young 
family, and sincerely attached to them. Nothing had 
been further from his thoughts than to cast any kind of 
slight upon the little boy, " Thornton Hunt, my favourite 




child," or his educators. It must therefore have been 
with something more than disgust that he found the 
Quarterly Keviewer, proceeding, after the passage just 
cited, to point out with unmistakable animus that such 
nervous terrors were easily to be accounted for in the 
case of one who had been brought up in ignorance of all 
the facts and consolations of the Christian religion. 

It is possible that this gratuitous attack upon a 
political opponent, through his own child, was not 
added to the article until after it had left Southey's 
hands. All that we know from Southey himself is that 
his sole object in mentioning Lamb's volume had been to 
call attention to its general merits — that he had in the 
first instance written " a saner religious feeling," which was 
the word that exactly expressed his meaning ; that happily 
remembering in time the previous history of the Lamb 
family, he had hastily changed the word to "sounder," 
meaning to re-cast the sentence when the article returned 
to him in proof, and that the opportunity never came. 
We may be sure that this explanation represents -the 
whole truth. Southey had written to his friend Wynn, 
in the very month in which the article appeared — " Eead 
JSlia, if the book has not fallen in your way. It is by 
my old friend, Charles Lamb. There are some things in 
it which will offend, and some which will pain you, as 
they do me ; but you will find in it a rich vein of pure 
gold." And the things which pained him were certainly 
of a kind about which the word sane might be more pro- 
perly used than the word sound. Lamb was probably 
mistaken in thinking that Southey referred to certain 
familiarities, if not flippancies, of expression on serious 
subjects that he may at times have indulged in. On this 
score he had a fair retort ready in the various ballads of 


diablerie that Southey had not disdained to write, and to 
publish. Nor was Southey, we may be sure, offended by 
so genuinely earnest a plea for temperance and rational 
gratitude as is contained in the essay Grace before 
Meat. Rather (as Lamb evidently suspected) was it 
such a vein of speculation as that followed out in New 
Year's Ere, which would cause a strange chill to the simple 
faith and steadfast hopefulness of his friend. As I have 
said, Lamb seems in this essay to have written with the 
express purpose of presenting the reverse side of a 
passage in his favourite Religio Medici. Sir Thomas 
Browne had there written — " I thank God I have not those 
strait ligaments, or narrow obligations to the world, as 
to dote on life, or be convulsed and tremble at the name 
of death." " When I take a full view and circle of my- 
self without this reasonable moderator, and equal piece 
of justice, death, I do conceive myself the miserablest 
person extant." Lamb may have argued (in the very 
words applied to this treatise in the essay on Imperfect 
Sympathies) that it was all very well for the author of the 
Religio Medici, " mounted upon the airy stilts of abstrac- 
tion " to " overlook the impertinent individualities of such 
poor concretions as mankind," but that to him, Elia ; death 
meant something by no means to be defined as a " reason- 
able moderator," and " equal piece of justice." He clung 
to the things he saw and loved — the friends, the books, the 
streets and crowds around him, and he was not ashamed 
to confess that death meant for him the absence of all 
these, and that he could not look it steadfastly in the 

It is worth noticing that the profound melancholy 
of this essay had already attracted attention, and formed 
the subject of a copy of verses, in the form of a Poetical 




Epistle to Elia, signed " Olen," in the London Magazine 
for August, 1821. Elia had been there taken to task, in 
lines of much eloquence and feeling, for his negative 
views on the subject of a future life. And indeed, for all 
the dallying with paradox, and the free blending of fact 
with fiction, in this singular paper, the fragments of per- . 
sonal confession are very remarkable. There are few 
things in literature more pathetic than the contrast drawn 
between the two stages of his own life, as if he would 
have given the lie sadly to his friend's adage about the 
child being father of the man : — 

If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is intro- 
spective—and mine is painfully so — can have a less respect for 
his present identity, than I have for the man Elia. I know him 
to be light, and vain, and humoursome ; a notorious . . . . ; 
addicted to .... ; averse from counsel, neither taking it nor 
offering it ; . . . . besides ; a stammering buffoon ; what you 
will ; lay it on, and spare not ; I subscribe to it all, and much 
more than thou canst be willing to lay at his door — but for the 
child Elia — that " other me " there in the background — I must 
take leave to cherish the remembrance of that young master, 
with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling of 
five-and-forty as if it had been a child of some other house, and 
not of my parents. I can cry over its patient small-pox at five, 
and rougher medicaments. I can lay its poor fevered head 
upon the sick pillow at Christ's, and wake with it in surprise at 
the gentle posture of maternal tenderness hanging over it, that 
unknown had watched its sleep. I know how it shrank from 
any the least colour of falsehood. God help thee, Elia, how art 
thou changed ! Thou art sophisticated. I know how honest, 
how courageous (for a weakling) it was ; how religious, how 
imaginative, how hopeful ! From what have I not fallen if the 
child I remember was indeed myself, and not some dissembling 
guardian, presenting a false identity, to give the rule to my 
unpractised steps, and regulate the tone of my moral being. 


Although the gloom is relieved by no ray of hope or 
consolation, the reality of the self-reproach might well 
have saved the writer from criticism, even as to the 
" sanity " of his religious feeling. 

Lamb was annoyed, rather than deeply hurt, by the 
attack upon himself. He had old grievances against the 
Quarterly Review. Eight or nine years before, he had 
written for it a review of Wordsworth's Excursion, which 
Gifford inserted after alterations that Lamb compared to 
pulling out the eyes and leaving only the bleeding sockets. 
" I cannot give you an idea of what he (Gifford) has done 
to it," he wrote to Wordsworth. " The language he has 
altered throughout. Whatever inadequateness it had to 
its subject, it was, in point of composition, the prettiest 
piece of prose I ever writ." And it is clear from the 
article itself, as it appears in the number for October, 
1814, that this language is not exaggerated. The sweet- 
ness and delicate perception of the author are there, but 
the diction bears little of his peculiar mark. Then had 
come the unfortunate reference to the Confessions of a 
Drunkard, already mentioned. In general the Quarterly 
set were in implacable opposition to the Lamb set, and 
now, not for the first time, he had to hear hard things 
said, not only of himself, but of those who were bound to 
him by ties of strong affection. He seems not to have 
been informed of the attack till some months after its 
appearance. It is not till the July following, at least, that 
any mention of it occurs in his letters. In that month he 
writes to Bernard Barton, " Southey has attacked El in on 
the score of infidelity, in the Quarterly article, Progress 
of Infidelity. He might have spared an old friend such ;i 
construction of a few careless flights, that meant no harm 
to religion. If all his unguarded expressions on the 




subject were to be collected — but I love and respect 
Southey, and will not retort. I hate his review and his 
being a reviewer. The hint he has dropped will knock 
the sale of the book on the head, which was almost at a 
stop before." This last apprehension was evidently 
groundless. There is no reason to suppose that the book 
made its way more slowly for the paragraph in the 
review. For whatever here and there is morbid in them, 
the Essays themselves contain the best antidote. 

Lamb could not resist the opportunity it afforded him 
for a fresh essay of Elia, and in the London for October, 
1823, appeared the Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, 
Esq. As a whole, it is not one of Lamb's happiest 
efforts. His more valid grounds of complaint against the 
review are set forth with sufficient dignity and force. He 
urges quite fairly that to say a book " wants a sounder 
religious feeling," is to say either too much or too little. 
And the indecency of attacking Leigh Hunt through his 
own child, a boy of twelve, is properly rebuked. But 
when Lamb carries the war into the enemy's territory, he 
is less successful. As two blacks do not make a white, it 
was beside the mark to make laborious fun over Southey's 
youthful ballads ; and the grievance as to the fees extorted 
from visitors to Westminster Abbey comes in rather flatly 
as a peroration. The concluding paragraphs of the letter 
are the only portions that Lamb afterwards thought well 
to reprint. They appeared, ten years later, in the Second 
Series of Elia under the title of Tombs of the Abbey. The 
letter, as a whole, is given in Talfourd's Memorials. 

Lamb was not so deeply moved by Southey's criticism 
but that he could make some sport over his annoyance. 
What actually galled him was the attack, through himself, 
upon a friend. In previous articles in the same Review 


he had found himself complimented at the expense of 
another friend, William Hazlitt. And now he took the 
opportunity to vindicate his friendship for both Hunt and 
Hazlitt in a passage that forms the most interesting and 
valuable portion of the letter. There had been a coolness, 
he tells us, between himself and Hazlitt, and it is pleasant 
to know that Lamb's generosity of tone at this time helped 
to make the relations between them once more cordial. 
" Protesting," he says, " against much that he has written, 
and some things which he chooses to do ; judging him by 
his conversation which I enjoyed so long, and relished so 
deeply ; or by his books, in those places where no clouding 
passion intervenes, I should belie my own conscience 
if I said less than that I think W. H; to be, in his 
natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest 
spirits breathing. So far from being ashamed of that 
intimacy which was betwixt us, it is my boast that I was 
able for so many years to have preserved it entire ; and I 
think I shall go to my grave without finding or expecting 
to find such another companion." Not less manly and 
noble is the justification of his steady friendship for Leigh 
Hunt, at that time living abroad, and with a reputation in 
England of ill savour with those to whom the pages of the 
Quarterly were addressed. " L. H. is now in Italy ; on 
his departure to which land, with much regret, I took 
my leave of him and of his little family, seven of them, sir, 
with their mother, and as kind a set of little people (T. H 
and all), as affectionate children as ever blessed a parent. 
Had you seen them, sir, I think you could not have looked 
upon them as so many little Jonases, but rather as pledges 
of the vessel's safety, that was to bear such a freight of 
love. I wish you would read Mr. H.'s lines to that 
same T. H., " six years old, during a sickness," — 




Sleep breathes at last from out thee, 
My little patient boy — 

(they are to be found on the 47th page of Foliage) — and 
ask yourself how far they are out of the spirit of 
Christianity. " 

As he wrote these words, Lamb may have recalled how 
his own unfailing sympathy had been a comfort to this 
friend in those darker days when Leigh Hunt was under- 
going his two years' imprisonment in the Surrey jail 
for his newspaper attack on the Prince Regent. Lamb 
and his sister were among the Hunts' most regular 
visitors at that time. " My eldest little boy," writes 
Hunt in his Autobiography, " was my constant companion, 
and we used to play all sorts of juvenile games together." 
And it was on watching the child at play among the 
uncongenial surroundings of prison life that Lamb had 
written his own lines to " T. L. H. — a child," comforting 
child and father with the thought that the time of 
deliverance was at hand, when the boy would be once 
more in his native element, breathing the healthful air 
and plucking the wild flowers on Hampstead Heath. 
Lamb was always tender over children, and these lines 
have a simplicity, over and above their studied quaintness, 
that savours pleasantly of Blake : — 

Guileless traitor, rebel mild, 

Convict unconscious, culprit-child ! 

Gates that close with iron roar 

Have been to thee thy nursery door : 

Chains that chink in cheerless cells 

Have been thy rattles and thy bells : 

Walls contrived for giant sin 

Have hemmed thy faultless weakness in : 

Near thy sinless bed black guilt 

Her discordant house hath built, 



And filled it with her monstrous brood — 

Sights by theo not understood — 

Sights of fear, and of distress, 

That pass a harmless infant's guess ! 

But tho clouds that overcast 

Thy young morning, may not last. 

Soon shall arrive the rescuing hour 

That yields thee up to Nature's power. 

Nature that so late doth greet thee 

Shall in o'erflowing measure meet thee. 

She shall recompense with cost 

For every lesson thou hast lost. 

Then wandering up thy sire's loved bill 

Thou shalt take thy airy fill 

Of health and pastime. Birds shall sing 

For thy delight each May morning. 

'Mid new-yeaned lambkins thou shalt play, 

Hardly less a lamb than they. 

Then thy prison's lengthened bound 

Shall be the horizon skirting round. 

And, while thou fill'st thy lap with flowers 

To make amends for wintry hours, 

The breeze, the sunshine, and the place, 

Shall from thy tender brow efface 

Each vestige of untimely care 

That sour restraint had graven there ; 

And on thy every look impress 

A more excelling childishness. 

So shall be thy days beguiled, 

Thornton Hunt, my favourite child. 

Southey first learned from the pages of the London 
Magazine the effect of the language used by him in the 
Quarterly Review. " On my part," he wrote to his pub- 
lisher, after reading Lamb's epistle, " there was not even a 
momentary feeling of anger. I was very much surprised 
and grieved, because I knew how much he would condemn 
himself, and yet no resentful letter was ever written less 
offensively ; his gentle nature may be seen in it through- 




out." Southey was in London in the month after the 
publication of Lamb's remonstrance, and wrote him a letter 
in language full of affection and sorrow. The soreness at 
once passed away. "Dear Southey," he replied, "the 
kindness of your note has melted away the mist which was 
upon me. I have been fighting against a shadow. That 
accursed Q. R. had vexed me by a gratuitous speaking, of 

its own knowledge, that the Confessions of a D d 

was a genuine description of the state of the writer. Little 
things that are not ill meant may produce much ill. Thai 
might have injured me alive and dead : I am in a public 
office, and my life is insured. I was prepared for anger, 
and I thought I saw in a few obnoxious words a hard 
case of repetition directed against me. I wish both Maga- 
zine and Eeview at the bottom of the sea. I shall be 
ashamed to see you, and my sister (though innocent) still 
more so ; for the folly was done without her knowledge, 
and has made her uneasy ever since. My guardian angel 
was absent at that time. I will muster up courage to see 
you, however, any day next week. We shall hope that 
you will bring Edith with you. That will be a second 
mortification. She will hate to see us ; but come, and heap 
embers. We deserve it — I for what I've done, and she 
for being my sister." The visit was paid, and the old 
intimacy renewed, never again to be weakened by unkindly 

In this note to Southey, Lamb has to tell of a change of 
address. In August of this year he and his sister had 
finally moved from Eussell Street, and for the first time in 
their united lives became householders. The rooms over 
the brazier's had from the first had many drawbacks, and 
for some years the brother and sister had occasionally re- 
tired to a rural lodging at Dalston, partly to enjoy a short 


respite from the din of the theatres and the market, but 
chiefly that Charles might be able to write without inter- 
ruption from the increasing band of intruders on his scanty 
leisure. There is a pretty glimpse of one such period of 
retreat in a note to Miss Hutchinson of . April in this 
year — " Meanwhile of afternoons we pick up primroses at 
Dalston, and Mary corrects me when I call 'em cowslips." 
And now they resolved to fix their tent permanently 
within reach of primroses and cowslips, and Charles 
must tell the story in his own words. He writes 
to Bernard Barton : — " When you come Londonward, 
you will find me no longer in Covent Garden. I 
have a cottage in Colebrook Row, Islington ; a cottage, 
for it is detached ; a white house with six good rooms ; 
the New River (rather elderly by this time) runs (if a 
moderate walking pace can be so termed) close to the foot 
of the house ; and behind is a spacious garden with vines 
(1 assure you), pears, strawberries, parsnips, leeks, carrots, 
cabbages, to delight the heart of old Alcinous. You enter 
without passage into a cheerful dining-room, all studded 
over and rough with old books ; and above is a lightsome 
drawing-room, three windows, full of choice prints. I feel 
like a great lord, never having had a house before." The 
sequel must be given, so amusingly illustrative of the 
snares and pitfalls that are inseparable even from rural 
felicity : — " I am so taken up with pruning and gardening, 
quite a new sort of occupation to me. I have gathered 
my Jargonels, but my Windsor pears are backward. The 
former were of exquisite raciness. I do now sit under my 
own vine and contemplate the growth of vegetable nature. 
I can now understand in what sense they speak of father 
Adam. I recognize the paternity while I watch my tulips. 
I almost fell with him, for the first day 1 turned a drunken 




gardener (as he let in the serpent) into my Eden, and he 
laid about him, lopping off some choice boughs, &c, which 
hung over from a neighbour's garden, and in his blind 
zeal laid waste a shade which had sheltered their window 
from the gaze of passers-by. The old gentlewoman (fury 
made her not handsome) could scarcely be reconciled by 
all my fine words. There was no buttering her parsnips. 
She talked of the law. What a lapse to commit on the 
first day of my happy ' garden state ' ! " 

The same letter tells of the failing fortunes of the 
London Magazine. Lamb was still contributing to its 
pages, though not so regularly as of old. He speaks of 
himself as lingering among its creaking rafters, like the 
last rat, and of many ominous secessions from the ranks of 
its old supporters. Hazlitt and Procter had forsaken it, and 
with them one who might well have been spared before, 
the wretched Wainwright, who had contributed to its pages 
various flimsy and conceited rhapsodies on art and letters. 
It is characteristic of Lamb that he always finds some good- 
natured word to say of this man, such as " kind " or 
" light-hearted," principally, no doubt, because the others 
of his set looked on him with some suspicion. It was 
his way to seek for the redeeming qualities in those 
the world looked coldly on. He did not live to know the 
worst of this now notorious hypocrite and scoundrel. 

In their autumn holiday of 1823, Charles and Mary 
Lamb made an acquaintance destined for the next ten 
years to add a new and most happy interest to their lonely 
lives. They were still faithful to the University towns in 
vacation time, and at the house of a friend in Cambridge, 
where Charles liked to play his evening game at whist, 
they found a little girl, the orphan daughter of Charles 
Isola, one of the Esquire Bedells of the University ; her 


grandfather, an Italian refugee, having settled in Cam- 
bridge as teacher of his own language. The child, who 
was at other times at school, spent her holidays with an 
aunt in Cambridge. The Lambs took a strong fancy to 
her, invited her to stay with them during her next holi- 
days, and finally adopted her. She called them uncle and 
aunt, and their house was generally her home, until her 
marriage with Mr. Moxon, the publisher, in 1833. The 
education of this young girl became the constant care of 
the brother and sister. They wished to give her the 
means of becoming herself a teacher, in the event of her 
not marrying, and while Charles taught her Latin, Mary 
Lamb worked hard at French that she might assist her 
young pupil. Many are the allusions in the letters of the 
last years to " our Emma f and as Mary Lamb's periods 
of mental derangement became more and more frequent 
and protracted, this new relationship became ever a 
greater comfort to them both. 

In the meantime Charles was fretting under the un- 
broken confinement of office life. " I have been in- 
superably dull and lethargic for many weeks," he writes to 
Bernard Barton early in 1824, "and cannot rise to the 
vigour of a letter, much less an essay. The London must 
do without me for a time, for I have lost all interest about 
it." A subsequent letter, in August, tells the same tale of 
increasing weariness. " The same indisposition to write has 
stopped my 'Elias,' but you will see a futile effort in the 
next number, ' wrung from me with slow pain.' The fact 
is, my head is seldom cool enough. I am dreadfully 
indolent." The "futile effort" in the next number was no 
other than the beautiful essay on Blakesmoor, fresh proof 
(if any were needed) that " difficult writing " need not 
make itself felt as such by the reader. Nothing more 




unforced in style ever came from Charles Lamb's hand — 
no sentences more perfect in feeling and expression than 
those with which it ends : — 

Mine, too— whose else ? — the costly fruit-garden, with its sun- 
baked southern wall ; the ampler pleasure-garden, rising back- 
wards from the house in triple terraces, with flower-pots, now of 
palest lead, save that a speck, here and there, saved from the 
elements, bespoke their pristine state to have been gilt and 
glittering ; the verdant quarters, backwarder still ; and, stretch- 
ing still beyond, in old formality, the firry wilderness, the haunt 
of the squirrel and the day-long-murmuring wood-pigeon, with 
that antique image in the centre, god or goddess I wist not ; 
but child of Athens or old Eome paid never a sincerer worship 
to Pan or to Svlvanus in their native groves, than I to that 
fragmental mystery. 

Was it for this, that I kissed my childish hands too fervently 
in your idol worship, walks and windings of Blakesmoor ! for 
this, or what sin of mine, has the plough passed over your 
pleasant places ? I sometimes think that as men, when they 
die, do not die all, so of their extinguished habitations there 
may be a hope — a germ to be revivified. 

The " firry wilderness" still remains, and in the grassy 
meadow where house and garden once stood may faintly be 
traced the undulations of the ground where the triple 
terraces rose backwards; but this is all of the actual 
Blakesmoor that survives. Yet in this very essay Lamb 
has fulfilled his own happy vision, and revivified for all 
time that " extinguished habitation." 

In spite of indolence and low spirits, the hand of Lamb 
had not lost its cunning, as the pretty Album verses 
written for Bernard Barton's daughter, Lucy, sufficiently 
testify. They were sent to Barton at the end of this 
month, September. " I am ill at these numbers," he 


pleaded, * but if the above be not too mean to have a place 
in thy daughter's sanctum, take them with pleasure." The 
lines are interesting, as giving another proof of Lamb's 
native sympathy with the Quaker simplicity. His Elia 
essay on the Quakers' Meeting has shown it. He had 
impressed Leigh Hunt, when a boy, by his Quaker-like 
demeanour. He had conveyed to Hood, we remember, on 
their first meeting, the idea of a " Quaker in black." He 
had told Barton in an earlier letter, " In feelings, and 
matters not dogmatical, I hope I am half a Quaker." And 
here, taking the word Album as text, u little book, sur- 
named of White, 91 he descants on the themes alone fitted 
to find shelter in such a home : — 

Whitest thoughts, in whitest dress, 
Candid meanings, best express 
Mind of quiet Quakeress. 

In February and March of the following year, his letters 
to Barton — the correspondent who now drew forth his best 
and most varied powers — show that the desire for rest was 
becoming irritably strong. " Your gentleman brother sets 
my mouth watering after liberty. Oh that I were kicked 
out of Leadenhall with every mark of indignity, and a 
competence in my fob. The birds of the air would not be 
so free as I should. How I would prance and curvet it, 
and pick up cowslips, and ramble about purposeless as an 
idiot ! " Later in March we learn that he had conveyed 
to the Directors of the East India Company his willing- 
ness to resign. " I am sick of hope deferred," he writes. 
" The grand wheel is in agitation that is to turn up my 
fortune ; but round it rolls, and will turn up nothing. I 
have a glimpse of freedom, of becoming a gentleman at 
large, but I am put off from day to day. I have offered 





my resignation, and it is neither accepted nor rejected. 
Eight weeks am I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess 
what an absorbing state I feel it. I am not conscious of 
the existence of friends, present or absent. The East 
India Directors alone can be that thing to me, or not. I 
have just learned that nothing will be decided this week. 
Why the next % why any week 1 " 

When he wrote these words, the gratification of his 
hopes was nearer than he thought. He_ can scarcely have 
had any serious anxiety as to the result of his application. 
Some weeks before he had received some kind of intima- 
tion that the matter might be arranged to his satisfaction, 
and his medical friends had certified that failing health 
and spirits made the step at least desirable. But he had 
served only thirty-three years, and it was not unusual for 
clerks to complete a term of forty or fifty years' service, so 
that he may have had some uneasy doubts as to the 
amount of pension. Eut all doubts were happily dis- 
pelled on the last Tuesday in March, 1825, when the 
Directors sent for him and acquainted him with the reso- 
lution they had passed. 

Lamb has described this interview in several letters, but 
nowhere so fully as in the Elia essay, the Superannuated 
Man, which, after his custom, he at once prepared for the 
next month's London Magazine. With the one exception, 
that he transforms the Directors of the India House into a 
private firm of merchants, and with one or two other slight 
changes of detail, the account seems to be a faithful ver- 
sion of what actually happened. 

A week passed in this manner, the most anxious one, I verily 
believe, in my life, when on the evening of the 12th of April, 
just as I was about quitting my desk to go home (it might be 


.about eight o'clock) I received an awful summons to attend the 
presence of the whole assembled firm in the formidable back 
parlour. 1 thought, Now my time has surety come ; I have done 
for myself. I am going to be told that they have no longer 

occasion for me. L , I could see, smiled at the terror I 

was in, which was a little relief to me ; when to my utter 

astonishment, 13 , the eldest partner, began a formal 

harangue to me on the length of my services, my very meri- 
torious conduct during the whole of the time (the deuce, thought 
I, how did he find out that ? I protest I never had the con- 
fidence to think as much). He went on to descant on the 
expediency of retiring at a certain time of life (how my heart 
panted !) and asking me a few questions as to the amount of my 
own property, of which I have a little, ended with a proposal, to 
which his three partners nodded a grave assent, that I should 
accept from the house which I had served so well a pension for 
life to the amount of two-thirds of my accustomed salary — a 
magnificent offer ! I do not know what I answered between 
surprise and gratitude, but it was understood that I accepted 
their proposal, and I was told that I was free from that hour to 
leave their service. I stammered out a bow, and at just ten 
minutes after eight I went home — for ever. 

The munificence thus recorded was happily no fiction. 
Lamb's fuH salary at the time was little short of seven 
hundred a year, and the offer made to him was a pension 
of four hundred and fifty, with a deduction of nine pounds 
a year to secure a fitting provision for his sister, in the 
event of her surviving him. " Here am I," he writes to 
Wordsworth, ' after thirty -three years' slavery, sitting in 
my own room at eleven o'clock, this finest of all April 
mornings, a freed man, with 441/. a year for the remainder 
of my life, live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived his 
annuity, and starved at ninety.' " 

The East India Directors seem to have been generous 




and considerate in a marked degree. If they wished to pay- 
some compliment to literature in the person of their dis- 
tinguished clerk, it was not less to their credit. But in 
spite of Lamb's modest language as to his official claims 
upon their kindness, it would seem that he served them 
steadily and faithfully during those thirty-three years. 
Save for his brief annual holiday, he stuck to his post. He 
wrote his letters from the desk in Leadenhall Street, and 
received some of his callers there, but there is nothing to 
show that he neglected his daily work. He had sometimes 
to tell of headache and indisposition, as when he had been 
dining with the poets the night before, where they had 
not " quaffed Hippocrene, but Hippocrass rather." And 
there is a tradition, — not to be too curiously questioned — 
that on occasion of being reproved for coming to the 
office late in the mornings, he pleaded that he made up for 
it by going away very early. But these peccadilloes are as 
nothing set against the long extent of actual service, and 
the hearty and spontaneous action of his employers at its 

Though Lamb had always fretted against what he called 
his slavery to the "desk's dead wood," the discipline of 
regular, and even of mechanical work, was of infinite 
service to him. With his special temperament, bodily 
and mental, he needed, of all men, the compulsion of 
duty. The " unchartered freedom " and the " weight of 
chance desires," which his friend Wordsworth has so 
feelingly lamented, would have been shipwreck to him. 
When deliverance from the necessity of toil came, he 
could not altogether resist their baneful effects. And we 
may be sure that we should not have had more, but fewer 
Essays of Elia, if the daily routine of different labour 
had been less severe or regular. He was well paid for the 


best of his literary work, but there was no pressure upon 
him to write for bread. " Thank God," he writes to 
Bernard Barton, "you and I are something besides being 
Wliten ! There is corn in Egypt, while there is cash at 
Leadcnhall ! " 




" I came home for ever on Tuesday in last week," Lamb 
writes to Wordsworth, on the 6th of April, 1825. 
" The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed 
me. It was like passing from life into eternity. Every 
year to be as long as three, i.e., to have three times as 
much real time — time that is my own, in it ! I wandered 
about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But 
that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to under- 
stand the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual 
month, were always uneasy joys : their conscious fugitive- 
ness ; the craving after making the most of them. Now, 
when all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at 
home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for 
walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it 
as natural to me to be my own master, as it has been irk- 
some to have had a master. Mary wakes every morning 
with an obscure feeling that some good has happened 
to us." 

Certain misgivings as to the consequences of the step 
he had taken are apparent here, even in his words of 
congratulation. They appear elsewhere, as in a letter to 
Barton of the same month, where he tells how the day 



before he had gone back and sat at his old desk among 
his old companions, and felt yearnings at having left 
them in the lurch. Still, he was forcing himself to take 
the most hopeful view of the change in his life, and the 
essay on the Superannuated Man, that appeared a month 
later in the London, elaborates with excellent skill the 
feelings which he wished to cultivate and preserve. " A 
man can never have too much Time to himself, nor too 
little to do. Had I a little son, I would christen him 
Nothing-to-do ; he should do nothing. Man, I verily 
believe, is out of his element as long as he is operative. I 
am altogether for the life contemplative." 

One of the earliest uses that he made of his freedom 
was to pay visits out of London with Mary. In the 
summer they are at Enfield, having quiet holidays. 
" Mary walks her twelve miles a day some days," Charles 
writes to Southey in August, " and I my twenty on others. 
'Tis all holiday with me now, you know. The change 
works admirably." But as time went on, the change was 
found to be less admirable. The spur and the discipline 
of regular hours and occupation being taken away, Lamb 
had to make occupation, or else to find amusement in its 
stead. He had been always fond of walking, and he now 
tried the experiment of a companion in his walks in the 
shape of a dog, Dash, that Hood had given him. But 
the dog proved unmanageable, and was fond of running 
away down any other streets than those intended by his 
master, and Lamb had to part with him a year or two 
later in despair. He passed Dash on to Mr. Patmore, 
and to this change of ownership we owe the amusing 
letter in which he writes for information as to the dog's 
welfare. " Dear P., excuse my anxiety, but how is 1 )asb I 
I should have asked if Mrs. Patmoro kept her rules, and 




was improving : but Dash came uppermost. The order 
of our thought should be the order of our writing. Goes 
he muzzled, or aperto ore ? Are his intellects sound, or 
does he wander a little in his conversation 1 You cannot 
be too careful to watch the first symptoms of incoherence. 
The first illogical snarl he makes — to St.Luke's with him. 
All the dogs here are going mad, if you can believe the over- 
seers : but I protest, they seem to me very rational and 
collected. But nothing is so deceitful as mad people, to 
those who are not used to them. Try him with hot water ; 
if he won't lick it up it is a sign — he does not like it. 
Does his tail wag horizontally, or perpendicularly 1 That 
has decided the fate of many dogs in Enfield. Is his 
general deportment cheerful 1 I mean when he is pleased, 
for otherwise there is no judging. You can't be too 
careful. Has he bit any of the children yet % If he has, 
have them shot, and keep him for curiosity, to see if it is 
the hydrophobia" — and so this "excellent fooling" rambles 
on into still wilder extravagances. u We are dawdling 
our time away very idly and pleasantly " the letter con- 
cludes, "at a Mrs. Leishman's, Chace, Enfield, where if 
you come a hunting, we can give you cold meat and a 
tankard." For two years from the time of his leaving the 
India House, the brother and sister paid occasional visits 
to Mrs. Leishman's lodgings, until, finally, in 1827, they 
became sole tenants of the little house, furnished. 

The year 1827 opened sadly for Charles and Mary Lamb. 
Since the death of their father, thirty years before, they 
had not had to mourn the loss of many friends connected 
with their early life. Their brother John had died five 
years before — but he had helped to make their real lone- 
liness felt, rather than to relieve it — and they had no 
other near relations. But there was one dear friend 




of the family, who had been associated with them in their 
seasons of heaviest sorrow and hardest struggle. This was 
Mr. Randal Norris, for many years sub-treasurer and 
librarian of the Inner Temple, whose name has occurred 
so often in Lamb's letters and essays. The families of 
Norris and Lamb were united by more than one bond of 
friendship. They were neighbours in the Temple for 
many years, and Mrs. Norris was a native of Widford, and 
a friend of the old housekeeper at Blakesware. And now 
Charles writes to Crabb Robinson to tell him that this, 
his oldest friend, is dying. " In him I have a loss the 
world cannot make up. He was my friend and my 
father's friend all the life I can remember. I seem to 
have made foolish friendships ever since. These are 
friendships which outlive a second generation. Old 
as I am waxing, in his eyes I was still the child he 
first knew me. To the last he called me Charley. 
I have none to call me Charley now. He was the 
last link that bound me to the Temple. You are but of 
yesterday. In him seem to have died the old plain- 
ness of manners and singleness of heart." In a few days 
the lingering illness was over, and the old friend was 
laid to rest in the Temple Church-yard. 

During the year that followed, Lamb found a con- 
genial occupation, and a healthy substitute for his old 
regular hours, in working daily at the British Museum. 
He wished to assist Hone, the editor of the Every Day 
Boolcs, and undertook to make extracts, on the plan of 
his former volumes of Dramatic Specimens, from the 
collection of plays bequeathed by Garrick to the 
British Museum, for publication in Hone's Table Book. 
"It is a sort of office-work to me," ho writes bo 
Barton, "hours, ton to four, the same. It docs me 




good. Man must have regular occupation that has 
been used to it." The extracts thus chosen were con- 
fessedly but gleanings after the earlier volumes, and 
in the scanty comments prefixed to them there is a 
corresponding falling off in interest. The remark upon 
Gorboduc, that " there may be flesh and blood underneath, 
but we cannot get at it " shows the old keenness of obser- 
vation. And it is pleasant to hear him repeat once more 
that the plays of Shakespeare have been the " strongest 
and sweetest food of his mind from infancy." But the 
real impetus to the study of the great Elizabethans had 
been given in the volumes of 1808. 

A series of short essays contributed in this same year 
to the New Monthly Magazine, under the title of Popular 
Fallacies, are for the most part of slight value. The one 
of these that was the author's favourite is suggested by 
the saying that " Home is home, though it is never so 
homely." The first exception that he propounds to 
the truth of this maxim is in the case of the u very poor." 
To places of cheap entertainment, and the benches of ale- 
houses, Lamb says, the poor man " resorts for an image of 
the home which he cannot find at home." Very touch- 
ing is the picture he goes on to draw of the discrepancy 
between the " humble meal shared together," as described 
by the sentimentalist, and the grim irony of the actual 
facts. " The innocent prattle of his children takes out the 
sting of a man's poverty. But the children of the very 
poor do not prattle. It is none of the least frightful 
features in that condition that there is no childishness in 
its dwellings. Poor people, said a sensible nurse to us 
once, do not bring up their children, they drag them up." 
The whole passage is in a strain of more sustained earnest- 
ness than is usual with Lamb, and serves to show how 




widely his sympathetic heart had travelled. From this 
theme he turns to one which touched his own circum- 
stances more nearly. There is yet another home, he says, 
which ; _rivcs the lie to the popular saying. It may have 
all the material comforts that are wanting to the poor man, 
all its fire side conveniences, and yet be no home. "It 
is the house of the man that is infested with many 
visitors. " And he goes on to draw the distinction between 
the noble-hearted friends that are always welcome, and 
the purposeless droppers in at meal-time, or just at the 
moment that you have sat down to a book. " They 
have a peculiarly compassionating sneer with which they 
hope that they do not interrupt your studies." It is 
Charles Lamb himself who is here publishing to the 
world the old grievance, which appears so constantly 
in his letters. He was being driven from Islington by the 
crowd of callers and droppers in, from whom he professed 
his inability to escape in any other way. Hardly is he 
settled at Enfield, in August 1827, when he has to protest 
that the swarm of gnats follows him from place to place. 
" Whither can I take wing," he writes to Barton " from 
the oppression of human faces 1 Would I were in a wilder- 
ness of apes, tossing cocoa-nuts about, grinning and 
grinned at ! " 

There is reason to believe, as already observed, that 
Lamb was in part responsible for these idle trespassers 
upon his time. He had not had the courage to keep 
them off when his days were fully occupied, and his 
evenings were his only time for literature ; and now, 
when he passed for a man wholly at leisure, it was 
not likely that the annoyance would diminish. But 
the truth is, there was an element of irritability in 
Lamb, due to the family temperament, which the 




new life, though he could now " wander at his own 
sweet will," was little calculated to appease. The rest 
of which he dreamed, when he retired in the prime of 
life from professional work, could only mean, to such a 
temperament as Lamb's, restlessness. He looked for 
relief from many troubles in the mere circumstance of 
change. It was the coelum, non animum disillusion that 
so many have had to experience. And at the same 
time he hated having to break with old associations, and 
to part from anything to which he had been long accus- 
tomed. When he moved to Enfield, in the autumn of 
1827, he wrote to Hood that he had had "no health" at 
Islington, and having found benefit from previous visits 
at Enfield, was going to make his abode there altogether. 
But, he adds, " 'twas with some pain we were evulsed 
from Colebrook. To change habitations is to die to 
them ; and in my time I have died seven deaths. But I 
don't know whether such change does not bring with it 
a rejuvenescence. 'Tis an enterprise : and shoves back the 
sense of death's approximating, which though not terrible 
to me, is at all times particularly distasteful." The letter 
ends in a more cheerful vein, with news of ten pounds a 
year less rent than at Islington, and many anticipations of 
occasional trips to London " to breathe the fresher air of 
the metropolis," and of the curds and cream he and Mary 
would set before Hood and Jerdan and other London 
friends who might visit them in their country home. 
Some of these joys were to be realized, and there are 
many signs of the old humour and fancy not having been 
altogether banished by the separation from London in- 
terests and friends. Mrs. Shelley meets him in town in 
August, 1828, and writes to Leigh Hunt, " On my return 
to the Strand, I saw Lamb, who was very entertaining 



and amiable, though a little deaf. One of the first ques- 
tions he asked nie was, whetlii-r they made puns in Italy. 
I siid 'Yes, now Hunt is there.' lie said that Burney 
made a pun in Otaheitc, the first that ever was made in 
that eountry. At first the natives could not make out 
what he meant ; hut all at once they discovered the pun, 
and danced round him in transports of joy." 

Lamb's work in literature was now substantially over, 
and he did little more than trifle with it, pleasantly 
and ingeniously, for the last few years. The London 
Magazine, after a long decay, and many changes of 
management, came to an end in 182G ; and though 
some of Lamb's later contributions to the New Monthly 
and the Englishman's Magazine were included in the 
Last Essays of Elia, collected and published in 1833, 
Elia may be said to have been born, and to have died, 
with the London Magazine. In 1828 he wrote, at the 
request of the wife of Thomas Hood, who had lately lost 
a child, the well-known lines, On an infant dying as soon 
as bom, redolent of the spirit and fancy of Ben Jonson 
and the later Elizabethans, and though written to order 
showing no lack of spontaneity. He continued to supply 
his young lady friends with acrostics and other such con- 
tributions to their albums. He suffered, as he alleged, 
terrible things from albums at this time. They were 
another of the taxes he found ruthlessly exacted from 
"retired leisure." He writes to Procter in 1829 : — 

We are in the last ages of the world, when St. Paul prophesied 
that women should be " headstrong, lovers of their own wills, 
having albums." I fled hither to escape the albumean perse- 
cution, and had not been in my new house twenty-four hours 
when the daughter of the next house came in with a friend's 
album to beg a contribution, and the following day intimated 




she had one of her own. Two more have sprung up since. If 
I take the wings of the morning, and fly unto the uttermost 
parts of the earth, there will albums be. New Holland has 
albums. But the age is to be complied with. 

He so far complied with the age as to produce enough, 
with a few occasional verses of other kinds, to make a 
little volume for his friend Moxon, then newly starting as 
a publisher, to issue in appropriate shape, in 1830. 

The " new house " spoken of in the letter just quoted 
was the Enfield house already mentioned ; but in the 
summer of 1829 Charles and Mary Lamb again changed 
their home. The sister's illnesses were becoming more 
frequent and more protracted, and the cares of housekeep- 
ing weighed too heavily on her. Their old servant, 
Becky, had married and left them, and they were little 
contented with her successor. There is a gloomy letter of 
Charles to his constant correspondent Barton, in July of 
this year, telling how time was not lightening the diffi- 
culties of a man with no settled occupation. He had 
been paying a visit in London, but even London was not 
what it had been. 

The streets, the shops, are left, but all old friends are gone. 
. . . . When I took leave of our adopted young friend at Charing 
Cross, 'twas heavy, unfeeling rain, and I had nowhere to go. 
Home have I none, and not a sympathizing house to turn to in 
the great city. Never did the waters of heaven pour down on a 

forlorner head I got home on Thursday, convinced that 

I was better to get home to my home at Enfield, and hide like a 
sick cat in my corner. And to make me more alone, our 
ill-tempered maid is gone, who, with all her airs, was yet a 
home-piece of furniture, a record of better days ; the young 
thing that has succeeded her is good and attentive, but she is 
nothing. And I have no one hore to talk over old matters with. 




. . . . What I can do, and do over-do, is to walk ; but deadly 
long are the days, these summer all-day days, with but a half- 
hour's candle-light and no tire-light I pity you for over- 
work, but I assure you no work is worse. The mind preys on 
itself — the most unwholesome food. I bragged formerly that I 
could not have too much time. I have a surfeit. With few 
years to come, the days are wearisome. But weariness is not 
eternal. Something will shine out to take the load off that flags 
me, which is at present intolerable. I have killed an hour or 
two in this poor scrawl. I am a sanguinary murderer of time, 
and would kill him inch-meal just now. But the snake is vital. 
Well, I shall write merrier anon. 

A letter of a week or two before had given sadder 
reasons for this depression of spirits. Mary Lamb had 
again been taken ill, and it had been necessary to remove 
her from home. 

I have been very desolate indeed. My loneliness is a little 
abated by our young friend Emma having just come here for her 
holidays, and a schoolfellow of hers that was with her. Still 
the house is not the same, though she is the same. 

It was these repeated illnesses of his sister, and the 
loss of their old servant, that made them resolve to give 
up housekeeping, and take lodgings next door (" Forty- 
two inches nearer town," Lamb said), with an old couple a 
Mr. and Mrs. Westwood, who undertook to board as well as 
lodge them. " We have both had much illness this year," 
he wrote to a friend, " and feeling infirmities and fretful- 
ness grow upon us, we have cast off the cares of housekeep- 
ing, sold of! our goods, and commenced boarding and 
lodging with a very comfortable old couple next door to 
where you found us. "We use a sort of common tabic. 
Nevertheless, we have reserved a private one for an old 




friend." In less than a week he was able to report the 
good effect of the change upon Mary. " She looks two 
and a half years younger for it. But we have had sore 

The next year opens with a letter to Wordsworth 
describing the new menage, and containing a charming 
picture of the old couple who now were host and hostess 
as well as landlords. 

Our providers are an honest pair, Dame Westwood and her 
husband ; he, when the light of prosperity shined on them, a 
moderately thriving haberdasher within Bow Bells, retired since 
with something under a competence ; writes himself parcel 
gentleman ; hath borne parish offices ; sings fine old sea-songs 
at threescore and ten ; sighs only now and then when he thinks 
that he has a son on his hands about fifteen, whom he finds a 
difficulty in getting out into the world ; and then checks a sigh 
with muttering, as I once heard him prettily, not meaning to 
be heard, " I have married my daughter, however takes the 
weather as it comes ; outsides it to town in severest season ; and 
o' winter nights tells old stories not tending to literature (how 
comfortable to author-rid folks !), and has one anecdote, upon 
which and about forty pounds a year he seems to have retired 
in green old age. 

The letter gives encouraging news of his sister's health 
and spirits, but the loneliness and the want of occupation 
are pressing heavily, he says, upon himself. He yearns 
for London and the cheerful streets. "Let no native 
Londoner imagine that health and rest, innocent occupa- 
tion, interchange of converse sweet, and recreative study, 
can make the country anything better than altogether 
odious and detestable." Later, in March, his thoughts 
are diverted from his own condition, by the illness of 
Miss Isola ; and a proposal from John Murray to con- 



tinuo tho Opeoim&U Of the Old Dramatists is declined, 
because in his anxiety for their young protegee he could 
think of nothing else. Miss Isola happily recovered. 
Lamb fetched her from Suffolk, where the illness had 
occurred, to Enfield, and it was on the journey home that 
the famous stage-coach incident occurred. " We travelled 
with one of those troublesome fellow-passengers in a stage 
coach that is called a well-informed man. For twenty 
miles we discoursed about the properties of steam, proba- 
bilities of carriage by ditto, till all my science, and more 
than all, was exhausted, and I was thinking of escaping 
my torment by getting up on the outside, when, getting 
into Bishop Stortford, my gentleman, spying some farming 
land, put an unlucky question to me : 1 What sort of crop of 
turnips I thought we should have this year ? ' Emma's 
eyes turned to me, to know what in the world I could 
have to say ; and she burst into a violent fit of laughter, 
maugre her pale serious cheeks, when with the greatest 
gravity I replied that 'It depended, I believed, upon 
boiled legs of mutton.' " 

There is little to record of incident or change in these 
last years of the life, now more and more lonely, of brother 
and sister. A small volume of occasional poetry, Album 
Verses — the amusements of the latter years of leisure — 
was produced by Mr. Moxon in 1830, but contains little 
to call for remark ; and another venture of Mr. Moxon's. 
TJie Englishman's Magazine, in the following year, drew 
from Lamb some prose contributions, under the heading 
of Peter's Net. In 1833, the Lambs made their last 
change of residence. Their furniture had been disposed of 
when they settled at Enfield, and they now entered on an 
arrangement similar to the last, of boarding and lodging 
with another married pair -younger, however, and more 





active — a Mr. and Mrs. Walden, of Bay Cottage, in the 
neighbouring parish of Edmonton. The reasons for the 
change are of the old sad kind. A letter to Words- 
worth, of May, 1833, tells the melancholy story: — 
" Mary is ill again. Her illnesses encroach yearly. The 
last was three months, followed by two of depression most 
dreadful. I look back upon her earlier attacks with 
longing. Nice little durations of six weeks or so, followed 
by complete restoration, shocking as they were to me 
then. In short, half her life is dead to me, and the other 
half is made anxious with fears and lookings forward to 
the next shock." Mary Lamb had been on former occa- 
sions of illness under the care of the Waldens, and the 
increasing frequency of her attacks made this change 
necessary in the interest of both brother and sister. It 
secured for Mary the constant supervision of an attendant. 

The same letter tells of an additional element of loneli- 
ness that was in store for them. Emma Isola was engaged 
" with my perfect approval and entire concurrence " to 
Mr. Moxon, the publisher, and the wedding was fixed. 
Lamb writes of it with the old habitual unselfishness, 
though it was to leave him without his " only walk- com- 
panion, whose mirthful spirits were the 'youth of our 
house.' " He turns, after his manner, to think of his com- 
pensations. He is emancipated from Enfield, with atten- 
tive people and younger, and what is more, is three or 
four miles nearer to his beloved town. Miss Isola was 
married on the 30th of July, and it is pleasant to 
know that though up to the very day of the wedding 
Mary Lamb had been unable to interest herself in the 
event, and was of course unable to be present at the 
ceremony, she attributes her recovery from this attack to 
the stimulus of the good rews suddenly communicated. 




There is a pathetic note of congratulation from ner to the 
newly-married pair, in which she tells them of this with 
characteristic simplicity. The Waldens had with happy 
tact proposed Mr. and Mrs. Moxon's health, at their quiet 
meal. " It restored me from that moment," writes Mary 
Lamb, " as if by an electrical stroke, to the entire posses- 
sion of my senses. I never felt so calm and quiet after a 
similar illness as I do now. I feel as if all tears were 
wiped from my eyes, and all care from my heart." 
And Charles is able to add, in a postscript, how they are 
again happy in their old pursuits— cards, walks, and 
reading : " never w r as such a calm, or such a recovery." 

In this year 1833, the later essays of Lamb contributed 
to the London Magazine, together with some shorter 
pieces from other periodicals, were published by Mr. 
Moxon, under the title of the Last Essays of Elia, and 
with this event the literary life of Lamb was destined to 
close. Nothing more, beyond an occasional copy of verses 
for a friend, came from his pen. Notwithstanding the 
increasing illness of his sister, he was able to enjoy some 
cheerful society, notably with a friend of recent date, 
Mr. Cary, the translator of Dante, with whom he dined 
periodically at the British Museum. Mr. John Forster, 
afterwards to be known widely as the author of the Life of 
Goldsmith, was another accession to his list of congenial 
friends. But these could not make compensation for the 
loss of the old. Lamb was not yet sixty years of age, 
but he was without those ties and relationships which 
more than all else we know bring "forward-looking 
thoughts." His life was lived chiefly in the past, and one 
by one "the old familiar faces" were passing away. In 
July, 1834, Coleridge died, after many months of suffering. 
For the last eighteen years of his life he had resided 




beneath Mr. Gilman's roof at Highgate, and Charles and 
Mary Lamb were among the most welcome visitors at the 
house : and now the friendship of fifty years was at an 
end. All the little asperities of early rivalry; all the 
natural regrets at sight of a life so wasted — powers so vast 
ending in performance so inadequate — a spirit so willing, 
and a will so weak — were forgotten now. Lamb had never 
spared the foibles of his old companion ; when Coleridge 
had soared to his highest metaphysical flights he had 
apologized for him — " Yes ! you know Coleridge is so full 
of his fun — he had described him as an " archangel, a 
little damaged ; " — but the indescribable moral afflatus felt 
through Coleridge's obscurest rhapsodies had been among 
the best influences on Charles Lamb's life. A few 
months later he tried to put his regrets and his obliga- 
tions into words. " When I heard of the death of Cole- 
ridge, it was without grief. It seemed to me that he had 
long been on the confines of the next world — that he had 
a hunger for eternity. I grieved then that I could not 
grieve ; but since, I feel how great a part he was of me. 
His great and dear spirit haunts me. I cannot think a 
thought, I cannot make a criticism on men or books, 
without an ineffectual turning and reference to him. He 
was the proof and touchstone of all my cogitations." 

The death of his friend was Charles Lamb's death- 
blow. There had been two persons in the world for whom 
he would have wished to live — Coleridge and his sister 
Mary. The latter was now for the greater part of each 
year worse than dead to him. The former was gone, and 
the blank left him helplessly alone. In conversation with 
friends he would suddenly exclaim, as if with surprise 
that aught else in the world should interest him, " Cole- 
ridge is dead ! " And within five weeks of the day when 




the touching tribute just cited was committed to paper, he 
was called to join his friend. One day in the middle of 
December, as he was taking his usual walk along the 
London Road, his foot struck against a stone, and he 
stumbled and fell, inflicting a slight wound on his face. 
For some days the injury appeared trifling, and on 
the 22 nd of the month he writes a cheerful note to 
the wife of his old friend George Dyer, concerning the 
safety of a certain book belonging to Mr. Cary, which he 
had left at her house. On the same day, however, symp- 
toms of erysipelas supervened, and it soon became evident 
that his general health was too feeble to resist the attack. 
From the first appearance of the disease the failure of life 
was so rapid that his intimate friends, Talfourd and Crabb 
Robinson, did not reach his bed-side in time for him to 
recognize them. The few words that escaped his lips 
while his mind was still unclouded, conveyed to those who 
watched him that he was undisturbed at the prospect of 
death. His sister was, happily for herself, in no state to 
feel or appreciate the blow that was falling. On the 27th of 
December, murmuring in his last moments the names of 
his dearest friends, he passed tranquilly out of life. " On 
the following Saturday his remains were laid in a deep 
grave in Edmonton churchyard, made in a spot which, 
about a fortnight before, he had pointed out to his sister 
on an afternoon wintry walk, as the place where he wished 
to be buried." 

There is a touching fitness in the circumstance that 
Charles Lamb could not longer survive his earliest and 
dearest friend — that, trying it for a little while, "ho liked 
it not — and died." It was a fitting comment on the circum- 
stance, that that other great poet and thinker who next 
to Coleridge shared Lamb's deepest pride and affection, as 




he looked back a year afterwards on the gaps that deatli 
had made in the ranks of those lie loved, should have once 
more linked their names in imperishable verse : — 

Nor haa the rolling year twice measured 
From sign to sign its steadfast course, 
Since every mortal power of Coleridge 
Was frozen at its marvellous source. 

The rapt one of the godlike forehead, 
The heaven. eyed creature, sleeps in earth : 
And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle, 
Has vanished from his lonely hearth. 

The friends of Lamb were not slow in giving expression 
to their sorrow for his loss, and their admiration of his 
character — Wordsworth and Landor in verse, Procter, 
Moxon, Forster, and many others through various channels, 
in prose. For the most part they had to deal in generali- 
ties, for Mary Lamb still lived, and the full extent of her 
brother's devotion and sacrifice could not yet be told. 
But abundant testimony was forthcoming that (to borrow 
Landor's words) he had left behind him that " worthier 
thing than tears," 

The love of friends, without a single foe. 

Wordsworth, in a beautiful tribute to his friend, begun 
with some view to an inscription for his grave, expressed 
no more than the verdict of all who knew him well, 
when he wrote, — 

Oh, he was good, if ever good man was. 

And yet there must have Wn many of his old acquain- 
tances who were startled at finding admiration for him 
thus expressed. Those who were not aware of the con- 
ditions of his life, or knew him only on his ordinary 
convivial side, regarded him, we are assured, as a flippant 




talker, reckless indeed in speech, inoody, and of uncertain 
temper. Few could know what Coleridge and Wordsworth 
and Southey knew so well, that with all his boastful 
renunciation of orthodoxy in belief, and his freedom of 
criticism on religious matters, he was one capable of 
feeling keenly both the sentiment and the principle of 
religious trust. There is ample evidence of this in those 
early letters written in the darkest hours of his life. And 
though the sentiment waned as a different class of 
associates gathered round him, and there were few at 
hand with whom to interchange his deeper thoughts, 
religion in him never died, but became a habit — a habit 
of enduring hardness, and cleaving to the steadfast per- 
formance of duty in face of the strongest allurements to 
the pleasanter and easier course. Ho set himself a task, 
one of the saddest and hardest that can be undertaken, to 
act as guardian and companion to one living always on 
the brink of insanity. For eight-and-thirty years lie was 
faithful to this purpose, giving up everything foi it, and 
never thinking that ho had done enough, or could do 
enough, for his early friend, his "guardian angel." 

It is noteworthy that those surface qualities of Charles 
Lamb by which so many were content to judge him, WON 
just thoso which men are slow to connect with Bterlin | 
goodness such as this. There was a certain BohemiaiUBID in 
him, it must bo allowed — a fondness lor overmuch t< ■' 
and gin-ami-water, and for the company of those whom 
more particular people looked shy upon. He often fretted 
against the loss of time they caused him, hut he 
tolerant for the moment of what fed his sense of QUmOUX 
or fancy, and always of that which touched the " riltUtOI 
Compassion " in him. Hewn free of speech, and not in 
the least afraid of allocking his com pa u\ . Audit ■ 




natural inference that such traits betoken a hand-to- 
mouth existence, a certain want of moral backbone, 
irregularity in money matters, and the absence of any 
settled purpose. Yet it was for the opposite of all this 
that Lamb's life is so notable. He was well versed in 
poverty — for some years in marked degree — but he seems 
never to have exceeded his income, or to have been in 
debt. In the days of his most straitened means he was 
never so poor but that he had in reserve something to 
help those poorer than himself. His letters show this 
throughout; and as his own fortunes mended, his generosity 
in giving becomes truly surprising. "He gave away 
greatly" says his friend Mr. Procter, and goes on to relate 
how on one occasion when he was in low spirits, and 
Lamb imagined that it might proceed from pecuniary 
causes, he said suddenly, " My dear boy, I have a quantity 
of useless things — I have now in my desk a— a hundred 
pounds — that I don't know what to do with. Take it." 
In his more prosperous days he always had pensioners on 
his bounty. For many years he allowed his old school- 
mistress thirty pounds a year. To a friend of Southey's, 
who was paralyzed, he paid ten pounds yearly ; and when 
a subscription was raised for Godwin in his gravest diffi- 
culties, Lamb's contribution was the munificent one of 
fifty pounds. His letters too prove that he could always 
make the more difficult sacrifices of time and thought 
when others were in need. For a young lady establishing 
a school — for a poor fellow seeking an occasional clerkship 
in the India House — for such as these he is continually 
pleading and taking trouble. And before he knew that 
the directors of the India House intended to provide for 
his sister, in the event of her surviving him, on the 
footing of a wife, he had managed to put by a sufficient 




sum to place her beyond the reach of want. At his 
death he left a sum of two thousand pounds, for his sister 
during her life, with a reversion to the child of their 
adoption, Emma Isola, then Mrs. Moxon. 

Mary Lamb survived her brother nearly thirteen years, 
dying at the advanced age of 82, on the 20th of May, 
1847. After the death of Charles, her health rallied suf- 
ficiently for her to visit occasionally among their old 
friends; but as years passed, her attacks became still 
more frequent, and of longer duration, till her mind became 
permanently enfeebled. After leaving Edmonton, she 
lived chiefly in St. John's Wood, under the care of a 
nurse. Her pension, together with the income from her 
brother's savings, was amply sufficient for her few needs. 

u She will live for ever in the memory of her friends," 
writes that true and faithful friend, Crabb Robinson, 
"as one of the most amiable and admirable of women." 
From this verdict there is no dissentient voice. With much 
less from which to form a direct opinion than in her 
brother's case, we seem to read her character almost 
equally well. The tributes of her brother scattered 
through essay and letter, her own few but very significant 
letters, and her contributions to literature, show her 
strong and healthy common sense, her true womanliness, 
and her gift of keen and active sympathy. She shared 
with Charles a love of Quaker-like colour and homeli- 
ness in dress. " She wore a neat cap," Mr. Procter tells 
us, " of the fashion of her youth ; an old-fashioned dress. 
Her face was pale and somewhat square, but very placid, 
with grey intelligent eyes. She was very mild in her 
manners to strangers ; and to her brother, gentle and 
tender, always. She had often an upward look of peculiar 
meaning when directed towards him, as though to give 




him assurance that all was then well with her." This 
unvarying manner, betokening mutual dependence and 
interest, was the feature that most impressed all who 
watched them together, her eyes often fixed on his 
as on " some adoring disciple," and ever listening to help 
his speech in some difficult word, and to anticipate the 
coming need. He in turn was always on the watch to 
detect any sign in her face of failing health or spirits, and 
to divert the conversation, if occasion arose, from any 
topic that might distress her or set up some dangerous 
excitement. Among the strange and motley guests that 
their hospitality brought around them, her own opinions 
and habits remained, with little danger of being shaken. 
" It has been the lot of my cousin," writes Lamb in the 
essay Mackery End, " oftener perhaps than I could have 
wished, to have had for her associates, and mine, free 
thinkers, leaders and disciples of novel philosophies and 
systems ; but she neither wrangles with, nor accepts their 
opinions. That which was good and venerable to her 
when she was a child, retains its authority over her mind 
still. She never juggles or plays tricks with her under- 
standing." It was this element of quietism in Mary 
Lamb that made her so inestimable a companion for her 
brother. She was strong where he was weak, and repose- 
ful where he was so often ill at ease. 

She was indeed fitted in all respects to be Charles 
Lamb's life-long companion. She shared his worthiest 
tastes, to the full. More catholic in her partialities than 
he, she devoured modern books as well as ancient with 
unfailing appetite, and had formed out of her reading 
a pure and idiomatic English style, with just a touch, as 
in everything else belonging to her, of an old-world for- 
mality. She possessed a distinct gift of humour, as her 


portion of Mrs. Leicester's School amply shows. The story 
of the Father's Wedding-day has strokes of humour and 
observation not unworthy of Goldsmith. Landor used to 
rave, with characteristic vehemence, about this little sketch, 
and to declare that the incident of the child wishing, 
when dressed in her new frock, that her poor " mamma 
was alive, to see how fine she was on papa's wedding-day," 
was a masterpiece. The story called TJie Young Maho- 
metan has a special interest as containing yet one more 
recollection of the old house at Blakesware. The medal- 
lions of the Twelve Caesars, the Hogarth prints, and the 
tapestry hangings, are all there, together with that pic- 
turesque incident, which Charles elsewhere has not over- 
looked, of the broken battledore and shuttlecock telling 
of happy children's voices that had once echoed through 
the lonely chambers. It is certain that Charles and Mary, 
ardently as they both clung in after years to London sights 
and sounds, owed much both in genius and character to 
having breathed the purer, calmer air of rural homesteads. 

A common education, whether that of sweet garden 
scenes, or the choice fancies and meditations of poet and 
moralist — a sense of mutual need — a profound pity for 
each other's frailties — of these was forged the bond that 
held them, and years of suffering and self-denial had 
made it ever more and more strong. " That we had much 
to struggle with, as we grew up together, we have reason 
to be most thankful. It strengthened and knit our com- 
pact closer. We could never have been what we have 
been to each other, if we had always had the sufficiency 
which you now complain of." It is with these words of 
divine philosophy that, when comparative ease had at 
last been achieved, Charles Lamb could look back upon 
the anxious past. 


lamb's place as a critic. 

It remains to speak of those prose writings of Lamb, many 
of earlier date than the Essays of EMa, by which his 
quality as a critic must be determined. As early as 1811 
he had published in Leigh Hunt's Reflector his essay on 
The Genius and Character of Hogarth. This was no subject 
taken up for the occasion. " His graphic representations," 
says Lamb, " are indeed books : they have the teeming, 
fruitful, suggestive meaning of words " — and no book was 
more familiar to him. A set of Hogarth's prints, including 
the Harlot 1 s and Rake's Progresses, had been among the 
treasures of the old house at Blakesware ; and Lamb as a 
child had spelled through their grim and ghastly histories 
again and again, till he came to know every figure and in- 
cident in them by heart. And now the cavalier tone in 
which certain leaders of the classical and historical schools 
of painting were wont to dismiss Hogarth as of slight 
value in point of art, made him keen to vindicate his old 
favourite. He has scant patience with those who noted 
defective drawing or " knowledge of the figure," in the 
artist. He is intolerant altogether of technical criticism. 
The essay is devoted to showing how true a moralist the 
painter is, and how false the view which would regard 
him chiefly as a humorist. He is a great satirist — a Juve- 



nal or a Persius. Moreover, he is a combination of satirist 
and dramatist. Hogarth had claimed for his pictures that 
they should be judged as successive scenes in a play, and 
Lamb takes him at his word. He is carried away by ad- 
miration for the tragic power displayed. He is in ecstasies 
over the print of Gin Lane, certainly one of the poorest of 
Hogarth's pictures as a composition, losing its due effect by 
overcrowding of incident, and made grotesque through 
sheer exaggeration. Yet, what stirs the critic's heart is 
"the pity of it," and he is in no humour to admit other 
considerations. He calls it "a sublime print." "Every part 
is full of strange images of death ; it is perfectly amazing 
and astounding to look at ; " and so forth. It is noticeable 
that Lamb does not write with the pictures before him, 
and trusts to a memory not quite trustworthy. For ex- 
ample, to prove that Hogarth is not merely repulsive, that 
there is always a sweet humanity in reserve as a foil for 
the horrors he deals with— something to " keep the general 
air from tainting," he says : " Take the mild, supplicating 
posture of patient poverty, in the poor woman that is per- 
suading the pawnbroker to accept her clothes in pledge in 
the plate of Gin Lane.' 1 There is really no such incident 
in the picture. There is a woman offering in pawn her 
kettle and fire-irons ; but, taken in combination with all 
the other incidents of the scene, she is certainly pledging 
them to buy gin. Here, as elsewhere, Lamb damages his 
case by over- statement, partly through love of surprises, 
partly because he willingly discovered in poem or picture 
what he wished to find there. He sees more of humanity 
and sweetness in what affects him than is actually present. 
He reads something of himself into the composition hr is 
reviewing. He is on safer ground when ho dwells on the 
genuine power, the pity and the terror, in that last scene but 




one of The Marriage-a-la-Mode ; and on the gentleness of 
the wife's countenance, poetizing the whole scene, in the 
print of The Distressed Poet. And he is doing a service 
to art of larger scope than fixing the respective ranks of 
Hogarth and Poussin, in these noble concluding lines : — 

I say not that all the ridiculous subjects of Hogarth have 
necessarily something in them to make us like them ; some are 
indifferent to us, some in their natures repulsive, and only made 
interesting by the wonderful skill and truth to nature in the 
painter ; but I contend that there is in most of them that sprink- 
ling of the better nature which, like holy water, chases away 
and disperses the contagion of the bad. They have this in them 
besides, that they bring us acquainted with the every-day human 
face ; they give us skill to detect those gradations of sense and 
virtue (which escape the careless or fastidious observer) in the 
countenances of the world about us ; and prevent that disgust 
at common life, that tcedium quotidianarum formarum, which 
an unrestricted passion for ideal forms and beauties is in danger 
of producing. 

His judgments of pictures are, as might be expected, those 
of a man of letters, not of a painter. It is the story in the 
picture that impresses him, and the technical qualities leave 
him unmoved. A curious instance of this is afforded in his 
essay on The Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the 
Productions of Modern Art. After complaining that, with 
the exception of Hogarth, no artist within the last fifty 
years had treated a story imaginatively — " upon whom his 
subject has so acted that it has seemed to direct him, not 
to he arranged by him " — he breaks out into a fine rhap- 
sody on the famous Bacchus and Ariadne of Titian in the 
National Gallery. But it is not as a masterpiece of colour 
and drawing that it excites his admiration. The qualities 
of the poet, not those of the painter, are what he discovers 




in it. It is the " imaginative faculty " which he detects, 
as shown in the power of uniting the past and the present. 
" Precipitous, with his reeling satyr-rout around him, 
re-peopling and re-illuming suddenly the waste places, 
drunk with a new fury beyond the grape, Bacchus, born 
of fire, fire-like flings himself at the Cretan : " this is the 
present. Ariadne, " unconscious of Bacchus, or but idly 
casting her eyes as upon some unconcerning pageant, her 
soul undistracted from Theseus " — Ariadne, " pacing the 
solitary shore in as much heart^silence, and in almost 
the same local solitude, with which she awoke at day- 
break to catch the forlorn last glances of the sail that 
bore away the Athenian ; " this is the past. But it is in 
the situation itself, not in Titian's treatment of it, that 
Lamb has found the antithesis that so delights him. He 
is in fact the poet, taking the subject out of the painter's 
hands, and treating it afresh. Lamb obtains an easy 
victory for the ancients over the moderns, by choosing as 
his foil for Titian and Kaffaelle the treatment of sacred 
subjects by Martin, the painter of Belshazzar's Feast and 
Tlie Plains of Heaven. And it is significant of a certain 
inability in Lamb to do full justice to his contemporaries, 
that in noting the barrenness of the fifty years in question 
in the matter of art, he has no exception to make but 
Hogarth. He might have had a word to say for Turner 
and Wilkie. 

The essay on The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century 
has received more attention than its importance at all 
warrants, from the circumstance that Macaulay set to work 
seriously to demolish its reasoning, in reviewing Leigh 
Hunt's edition of the Restoration Dramatists. Lamb's 
essay was originally part of a larger essay upon the old 
actors, in which he was led to speak of the comedies of 

176 CHAELES LAMB. [chap. 

Congreve and Wycherley, and the reasons why they no 
longer held the stage. His line of defence is well known. 
He protests that the world in which their characters move is 
so wholly artificial — a conventional world, quite apart from 
that of real life — that it is beside the mark to judge them 
by any moral standard. " They are a world of themselves 
almost as much as fairy-land." The apology is really (as 
Hartley Coleridge acutely points out) for those who, like 
himself, could enjoy the wit of these writers, without 
finding their actual judgment of moral questions at all in- 
fluenced by it. It must be admitted that Lamb does not 
convince us of the sincerity of his reasoning, and probably 
he did not convince himself. He loved paradox ; and he 
loved, moreover, to find some soul of goodness in things evil. 
As Hartley Coleridge adds, it was his way always to take 
hold of things " by the better handle." 

The same love of paradox is manifest in the essay on 
Shakespeare's Tragedies, " considered with reference to their 
fitness for stage representation." If there are any positions 
which we should not expect to find Lamb disputing, they 
are the acting qualities of Shakespeare's plays, and the in- 
tellectual side of the actor's art. Yet these are what he 
devotes this paper to impugning. He had been much dis- 
gusted by the fulsome flattery contained in the epitaph 
on Garrick in Westminster Abbey. In this bombastic 
effusion, this "farrago of false thoughts and nonsense," 
as Lamb calls it, Garrick is put on a level with 
Shakespeare : — 

And till Eternity with power sublime 
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time, 
Shakespeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine, 
And earth irradiate with a beam divine. 

Why is it, asks Lamb, that " from the days of the 


actor here celebrated to our own, it should have been the 
fashion to compliment every performer in his turn, that 
has had the luck to please the town in any of the great 
characters of Shakespeare, with the notion of possessing a 
mind congenial with the poet's : how people should come 
thus unaccountably to confound the power of originating 
poetical images and conceptions with the faculty of being 
able to read or recite the same when put into words % " 
And he goes on, in the same strain of contempt, to speak 
of the "low tricks upon the eye and ear," which the 
player can so easily compass, as contrasted with the " ab- 
solute mastery over the heart and soul of man, which a 
great dramatic poet possesses." No one knew better than 
Lamb, that the resources of the actor's art are not fairly 
or adequately stated in such language as this. He had 
himself the keenest relish for good acting, and no one 
has described and criticised it more finely. Witness his 
description of his favourite Munden, in the part of the 
Greenwich Pensioner, Old Dosey, and of Bensley's con- 
ception of the character of Malvolio. Or, again, take the 
exquisite passage in which he recalls Mrs. Jordan's per- 
formance of Viola : " There is no giving an account how 
she delivered the disguised story of her love for Orsino. 
It was no set speech, that she had foreseen, so as to weave 
it into a harmonious period, line necessarily following line 
to make up the music — yet I have heard it so spoken, or 
rather read, not without its grace and beauty ; but when 
she had declared her sister's history to be a " blank," and 
that she " never told her love," there was a pause, as if 
the story had ended— and then the image of the " worm 
in the bud" came up as a new suggestion — and the 
heightened image of "Patience" still followed after that, 
as by some growing (and not mechanical) process, thought 





springing up after thought, I would almost say, as they 
were watered by her tears." We are quite sure that 
the writer of these eloquent words did not seriously 
regard the art of acting as a mere succession of tricks 
" upon the eye and ear." He was for the moment 
prejudiced against the great actor — whom, by the way, he 
had never seen, Garrick having left the stage in 1776 — by 
the injudicious language of his flatterers. But if we make 
due allowance for his outburst of spleen, we shall find 
much that is admirably true mixed up with it. Critics 
have often, for instance, insisted upon what is gained by 
seeing a drama acted, as distinguished from reading it, 
and Lamb here devotes himself to showing how far it is 
from being all gain. "It is difficult for a frequent play- 
goer to disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from the person 
and voice of Mr. Kemble. We speak of Lady Macbeth, 
while we are in reality thinking of Mrs. Siddons." We 
get distinctness, says Lamb, from seeing a character thus 
embodied, but "dearly do we pay" for this sense of 

This line of criticism leads up to the crowning paradox 
of this essay, that the plays of Shakespeare " are less 
calculated for performance on a stage than those of almost 
any other dramatist whatever." Here again it may be 
said that no one knew better than Lamb that in a 
most important sense these words are the very reverse of 
truth. There is no quality in which Shakespeare's great- 
ness as a dramatist is more conspicuous than his know- 
ledge of what is effective in stage representation. But 
Lamb chose to mean something very different from this. 
He was thinking of certain other qualities in the poet 
which are incommunicable by the medium of acting, and 
on these he proceeds to dwell, discussing for that purpose 




tho traditional stage rendering of Hamlet and other 
characters. He points out how the stage Hamlet almost 
always overdoes his scorn for Polonius, and his brutality 
to Ophelia, and asks the reason of this. It does not 
seem to occur to him that tins is simply bad acting, and 
that it is not at all a necessary incident of the art that 
Hamlet's feelings should be thus represented. He seems 
to be confounding the limitations of the particular actor 
with those of his art. Indeed it is clear that many of the 
positions maintained in this paper are simply convenient 
opportunities for enlarging upon some character or con- 
ception of the great dramatist. 

Lamb had a juster complaint against Garrick than that 
supplied by the words of a foolish epitaph. He boldly 
expresses a doubt whether the actor was capable of any 
real admiration for Shakespeare. Would any true lover of 
his plays, he asks, have " admitted into his matchless 
scenes such ribald trash " as Tate and Cibber and the 
rest had foisted into the acting versions of the dramas 1 
Much of the scorn and indignation expressed by Lamb in 
this paper, becomes intelligible when we recall in what 
garbled shapes the dramatist was presented. Garrick 
himself had taken a prominent share in these alterations 
of the text. It was he who completely changed the last 
act of Hamlet, and turned the Winter's Tale into a piece 
of Arcadian insipidity. But the greatest outrage of all, 
in Lamb's view, would be Tate's version of Lear — in a 
modified edition of which Garrick himself had performed. 
In this version — which the editor of Bell's acting edition 
(1774) calls a "judicious blending " of Shakespeare and 
Tate — the character of the Fool is altogether omitted ; 
Cordelia survives, and marries Edgar; and Lear, Kent, 
and Gloster announce their intention of retiring into 




private life, to watch, the happiness of the young couple, 
Lear himself bringing down the curtain with these 
amazing lines : — 

Thou, Kent, and I, retired from noise and strife. 
Will calmly pass our short reserves of time 
In cool reflections on our fortunes past, 
Cheered with relation of the prosperous reign 
Of this celestial pair ; thus our remains 
Shall in an even course of thoughts be past, 
Enjoy the present hour, nor fear the last. 

This was the stuff which in Lamb's day the actors and 
their audience were content to accept as the work of the 
Master-hand. It may well account for a tone of bitterness, 
and even of exaggeration, that pervades the essay. It is 
some compensation that it drew from Lamb his noble vin- 
dication of Shakespeare's original. The passage is well 
known, but I cannot deny myself the pleasure of quoting 
it once again : — 

The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted. The contemptible 
machinery by which they mimic the storm which he goes out 
in, is not more inadequate to represent the horrors of the real 
elements, than any actor can be to represent Lear ; they might 
more easily propose to personate the Satan of Milton upon a 
stage, or one of Michael Angelo's terrible figures. The great- 
ness of Lear is not in corporal dimension, but in intellectual ; 
the explosions of his passion are terrible as a volcano ; they are 
storms turning up and disclosing to the bottom that sea, his 
mind, with all its vast riches. It is his mind which is laid bare. 
This case of flesh and blood seems too insignificant to be thought 
on : even as he himself neglects it. On the stage we see nothing 
but corporal infirmities and weakness, the impotence of rage : 
while we read it, we see not Lear, but we are Lear, we are in 
his mind, we are sustained by a grandeur which baffles the 
malice of daughters an storms; in the aberrations of his 
reason we discover a mighty irregular power of reasoning, im- 




methodized from the ordinary purposes of life, but exerting its 
powers, as the wind blows where it listeth, at will upon the 
corruptions and abuses of mankind. What have looks or tones 
to do with that sublime identification of his age with that of 
the heavens themselves, when in his reproaches to them for 
conniving at the injustice of his children, he reminds them that 
" they themselves are old ? " What gestures shall we appro- 
priate to this ? What has the voice or the eye to do with such 
things ? But the play is beyond all art, as the tamperings with 
it show : it is too hard and stony ; it must have love-scenes, and 
a happy ending. It is not enough that Cordelia is a daughter ; 
she must shine as a lover too. Tate has put his hook in the 
nostrils of this Leviathan, for Garrick and his followers, the 
showmen of the scene, to draw the mighty beast about more 
easily. A happy ending ! — as if the living martyrdom that 
Lear had gone through, the flaying of his feelings alive, did 
not make a fair dismissal from the stage of life the only decorous 
thing for him. If he is to live and be happy after, if he could 
sustain this world's burden after, why all this pudder and pre- 
paration — why torment us with all this unnecessary sympathy ? 
as if the childish pleasure of getting his gilt robes and sceptre 
again could tempt him to act over again his misused station— as 
if, at his years, and with his experience, anything was left but to 

No passage in Lamb's writings is better fitted than this 
to illustrate his peculiar power as a commentator. It as 
little suggests Hazlitt or Coleridge, as it does Schlegel or 
Gervinus. It is more remote still — it need hardly be 
added — from the fantastic tricks of a later day, which 
are doing all they can to make Shakespearian criticism 
hideous. Lamb's emphatic vindication of the course of 
events in Shakespeare's tragedy of course implies a criticism 
and a commendation of the dramatist. But no ono feels 
that he is either patronizing, or judging, Shakespeare. 
He takes Lear, as it were, out of tho hands of literature, 
and regards him as a human being placed in tho world 




where all men have to suffer and be tempted. We forget 
that he is a character in a play, or even in history. 
Lamb's criticism is a commentary on life, and no truer 
homage could be paid to the dramatist than that he 
should be allowed for the time to pass out of our 

Thoroughly characteristic of Lamb is the admirable 
paper on The Sanity of True Genius, suggested by 
Dry den's famous line as to "great wit" being nearly 
allied to madness. It aims to disprove this, and to show 
that, on the contrary, the greatest wits "will ever be 
found to be the sanest writers." He illustrates this by 
the use that Shakespeare and others make of the super- 
natural persons and situations in their writings. " Cali- 
• ban, the Witches, are as true to the laws of their own 
nature (ours with a difference) as Othello, Hamlet, and 
Macbeth. Herein the great and the little wits are differ- 
enced : that if the latter wander ever so little from nature 
or actual existence, they lose themselves and their 
readers." And with a marvellous semblance of paradox, 
which yet is felt to be profoundly true, he proceeds to de- 
clare that in Spenser's Episode of the "Cave of Mammon," 
where the Money-God, and his daughter Ambition and 
Pilate washing his hands — the most discordant persons 
and situations — are introduced, the controlling power of 
the poet's sanity makes the whole more actually consis- 
tent, than the characters and situations of every-day life 
in the latest novel from the Minerva Press. It is a proof, 
he says, " of that hidden sanity which still guides the 
poet in his wildest seeming aberrations." No detached 
sentences can, however, convey an idea of this splendid 
argument. Nothing that Lamb has written proves more 
decisively how large a part the higher imagination plays 




in true criticism ; nothing better illustrates the truth of 
Butler's claim, that 

The poet must be tried by his peers, 
And not by pedants and philosophers. 

That Lamb was a poet is at the root of his greatness 
as a critic ; and his own judgments of poetry show the 
same sanity to which he points in his poetical brethren. 
He is never so impulsive or discursive that he fails to 
show how unerring is his judgment on all points con- 
nected with the poet's art. There had been those before 
Lamb, for example, who had quoted and called attention to 
the poetry of George Wither ; but no one had thought of 
noticing that his metre was also that of Ambrose Philips, 
and that Pope and his friends had only proved their own 
defective ear by seeking to make it ridiculous. " To the 
measure in which these lines are written, the wits of 
Queen Anne's days contemptuously gave the name of 
Namby-Pamby, in ridicule of Ambrose Philips, who has 
used it in some instances, as in the lines on Cuzzoni, to 
my feeling at least very deliciously ; but Wither, whose 
darling measure it seems to have been, may show that in 
skilful hands it is capable of expressing the subtlest 
movement of passion. So true it is, what Drayton seems 
to have felt, that it is the poet who modifies the metro, 
not the metre the poet." 

It was in the margin of a copy of Wither's poems that 
this exquisite comment was originally made; and in BUeh 
a casual way did mucli of Lamb's finest criticism coino 
into being. All through his life, in letter and essay, 
he was making remarks of this kind, throwing them out 
by the way, never thinking that they would be hereafter 
treasured up as the most luminous and penetrative judg* 




ments of the century. And it may well be asked why, 
with such a range of sympathy, from Marlowe to Ambrose 
Philips, from Sir T. Browne to Sir William Temple, he 
was so limited, so one-sided in his estimate of the litera- 
ture of his own age 1 It is true that he was among the 
first in England to appreciate Burns and "Wordsworth. 
But to Scott, Byron, and Shelley he entertained a feeling 
almost of aversion. He was glad (as we gather from the 
Essay on The Sanity of True Genius) that " a happier 
genius " had arisen to expel the " innutritious phantoms " 
of the Minerva Press ; but the success of the Waverley 
Novels seems to have caused him amusement rather than 
any other feeling. About Byron, he wrote to Joseph 
Cottle, " I have a thorough aversion to his character, 
and a very moderate admiration of his genius : he is great 
in so little a way. To be a poet is to be the man, not a 
petty portion of occasional low passion worked up in a 
permanent form of humanity." Shelley's poetry, he told 
Barton he did not understand, and that it was "thin 
sown with profit or delight." When he read Goethe's 
Faust (of course in an English version), he at once pro- 
nounced it inferior to Marlowe's in the chief motive of the 
plot, and was evidently content to let criticism end there. 
Something of this may be ascribed to a jealousy in Lamb 
— a strange and needless jealousy for his own loved 
writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a 
fear lest the new comers should usurp some of the praise 
and renown that he claimed for them ; something, also, to 
a perverseness in him which made him like to be in opposi- 
tion to the current opinion, whatever it might be. He 
was often unwilling, rather than unable, to discuss the 
claims of a new candidate for public favour. He lived 
mainly in communion with an older literature. It was to 




him inexhaustible in amount and in excellence, and he 
was impatient of what sought to divert his attention from 
it. It was literally true of him that " when a new book 
came out — he read an old one." 

Eut even of the old ones, the classics of our literature, 
it was not easy to say what his opinion in any case would 
be. For instance, he was a great admirer of Smollett, and 
was with great difficulty brought to admit the superiority 
of Fielding. And in the work of a greater humorist than 
Smollett, in the Picaresque school — Gil Bias— he would 
not acknowledge any merit at all. The truth is that for 
Lamb to enjoy a work of humour, it must embody a 
strong human interest, or at least have a pulse of humanity 
throbbing through it. Humour, without pity or tender- 
ness, only repelled him. It was another phase of the 
same quality in him that — as we have seen in his estimate 
of Byron — where he was not drawn to the man, he was 
almost disabled from admiring, or even understanding, 
the man's work. Had he ever come face to face with the 
author for a single evening, the result might have been 
quite different. 

There is no difficulty, therefore, in detecting the limita- 
tions of Lamb as a. critic. In a most remarkable degree 
he had the defects of his qualities. Where his heart was, 
there his judgment was sound. Where he actively dis- 
liked, or was passively indifferent, his critical powers 
remained dormant. He was too fond of paradox, too 
much at the mercy of his emotions or the mood of the 
hour, to be a safe guide always. But where no disturbing 
forces interfered, he exercised a faculty almost unique in 
the history of criticism. When Southey heard of his 
Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets, he wrote to 
Coleridge : "If co-operative labour were as practicable as 



[CH. IX. 

it is desirable, what a history of English literature might 
he and you and I set forth ! " Such an enterprise would 
be, as Southey saw, all but impossible ; but if the 
spiritual insight of Coleridge, and the unwearied industry 
and sober common-sense of Southey, could be combined 
with the special genius of Charles Lamb, something like 
the ideal commentary on English literature might be the 

As it is, Lamb's contribution to that end is of the 
rarest value. If it is too much to say that he singly re- 
vived the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is because 
we see clearly that that revival was coming, and would 
have come even without his help. But he did more than 
recall attention to certain forgotten writers. He flashed 
a light from himself upon them, not only heightening 
every charm and deepening every truth, but making even 
their eccentricities beautiful and lovable. And in doing 
this he has linked his name for ever with theirs. When 
we think of " the sweetest names, and which carry a per- 
fume in the mention, — Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond 
of Hawthornden, and Cowley"— then the thought of 
Charles Lamb will never be far off. His name, too, has a 
perfume in the mention. " There are some reputations," 
wrote Southey to Caroline Bowles, " which will not keep, 
but Lamb's is not of that kind. His memory will retain 
its fragrance as long as the best spice that ever was 
expended upon one of the Pharaohs." 


tfngltei) Mm ot llrttcra